The past few years have been a really interesting time to be an education lobbyist with the Idaho Legislature. And, as the representative for the more than 100 traditional and charter school districts in the Idaho School Boards Association (ISBA), Jess Harrison, 33, has been in the thick of it.
“I really enjoy the advocacy I do,” Harrison says. “I’m a true believer in public education and providing opportunities for all kids. The fact that I go to the Legislature and make positive changes to help districts is enjoyable to me.”
To help balance the needs of the various districts, the ISBA has a formal process to help give Harrison clear guidance on the organization’s platform. “School boards, whether charter or traditional, bring us resolutions and they’re voted on by the entire membership,” she says. In addition, the government affairs committee, with trustees from around the state, holds a weekly conference call to give her direction on how to respond to bills that are not already a part of the platform. “It’s a true help to have that feedback from them on such a regular basis during the session.”
Sometimes the ISBA’s work is more about opposing bills than passing legislation, Harrison admits. For example, she counts one of her biggest successes this year the failure of HJR 1, a constitutional amendment that would have allowed the state to make appropriations to sectarian or religious institutions for educational purposes. “It was really important to our membership,” she says. “That bill died, and we thought that was a very big victory.”
While the ISBA doesn’t win in everything, Harrison prefers to focus on the positive. “I don’t tend to focus on failures,” she says. “I haven’t kept track of what our big losses have been.”
Outside the legislative session, Harrison writes articles and holds workshops to help districts understand how new laws that have been passed and rules that have been implemented will affect their districts. “What they’ll need to change with the policy manuals,” she explains.
In addition to her work with the ISBA, Harrison is board secretary and nominating chair with Go Lead Idaho, a women’s leadership organization that focuses on getting women involved in political and nonprofit offices and boards. Harrison is also involved with the Boise Metro Chamber of Commerce’s Boise Young Professionals and is a member of the Education/Workforce Committee. And in her spare time, she completed her master’s in public administration through Boise State University.
Harrison likes to get outside during nice weather with her two English bulldogs. “There’s lots of parks I can take my dogs to, it’s close to downtown, and close to almost everything,” she says of her home on the Bench.
And her next step? “I am really enjoying this current position,” Harrison says. “I’m not looking at it as a stepping stone to something else.”
Most memorable airplane trip: “When we flew from Salt Lake City to Atlanta. The 2-year-old would not sit in his seat and the 6-month-old cried the whole flight. So we were those people everybody hated.”