IECA held its inaugural Advocacy Day in Washington, DC on March 28 and 29, 2023. Fifteen IECA members from around the world met with over 40 elected officials and their legislative aides in the US House of Representatives and Senate to advocate on issues of importance to our profession and the students and families we support.

The IECA Government Relations Committee is relatively new, created in 2019 in response to the Varsity Blues scandal, which threatened burdensome regulations to our profession from the California legislature with the introduction of Assembly Bill 1312. IECA quickly took action, leading other national associations to navigate this new legislative environment. IECA’s Board of Directors established the Government Relations Committee to monitor future legislation impacting members. IECA also engaged Pillsbury Law, a well-respected advocacy firm, to help in this effort.

Since then, IECA has fought other legislative “battles” in Oregon and Illinois, building new bridges with legislators to demonstrate our expertise and ethics while having a clear voice that informs policies that best serve students, families, and the profession.

Today, IECA is proactively establishing itself as the nation’s expert in educational consulting rather than reacting to future legislation that might impact our work. The inaugural IECA Advocacy Day planted essential seeds for the future, introducing our organization as an association of significance and a valuable partner to elected officials at the federal level.

Three priorities guided legislative meetings. The first priority was introducing IECA as the premier professional association of educational experts, with the highest ethical standards, as a partner for legislation and policymaking regarding supporting students and protecting families as they make educational transitions and placements.

Our second priority was to advocate for financial aid transparency. IECA supports legislation that provides financial aid clarity. In our work with students and their families, we witness firsthand the difficulty in interpreting financial aid offers. Standardizing financial aid offers is a step towards making informed decisions about the true cost of college and reversing the trend of staggering student debt.

As part of this effort we met with the sponsors of the Understanding the True Cost of College Act, including Young Kim (R-CA) and Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-IL) in the House and Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and Tina Smith (D-MN) in the Senate. We lobbied for this bill on both sides of the Hill and with representatives of both parties. This act offers a solution that includes requiring standard terminology and a universal format to aid students and their families in the financial decision-making process.

Our third priority was to advocate for adolescents and programs that serve young adults struggling with mental health by supporting legislation on licensure and standards of care for therapeutic programs. Nearly all teens sent to residential therapeutic environments have exhausted all local resources for mental health treatment, and their providers recommend a higher level of care. These children and adolescents are in danger of addiction, self-harm, failure to launch, arrested development, and even incarceration unless such programs operate.

In recent years, articulated by Paris Hilton, among others, some adults have come forward with allegations of past mistreatment or abuse in wilderness programs, residential treatment centers, and therapeutic boarding schools. Some have sought to completely shut down all such programs, despite the demonstrated effectiveness of the vast majority of therapeutic programs.

While national accrediting bodies exist and most state licensing boards provide supervision, such accreditation or licensing is not consistently true in all states. IECA endorses future legislation that assures the safe and effective operation of therapeutic boarding schools, residential treatment centers, and wilderness-based programs while assuring the safety of adolescents needing such care.

In this effort we met with legislative leaders for the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP), including staff representing chairperson Bernie Sanders (D-VT) and the ranking member Bill Cassidy (R-LA).

Many hands contributed to making Advocacy Day a reality. IECA wishes to acknowledge the Advocacy Day Planning Committee, including Whitney Bruce, Julia Gooding, Rebecca Grappo, Jeana Kawamura, and the Government Relations Committee.

The inaugural IECA Advocacy Day in Washington, DC was a significant step toward establishing IECA as the premier professional association in our field and a valuable partner to elected officials at the federal level. The meetings were positive, productive, and focused on priorities that will benefit our profession, students, and families. We hope that this event will be the first of an important tradition for the association and that IECA will continue to play a leading role in shaping legislation and policies that support students, protect families, and promote the highest ethical standards in educational consulting.

We look forward to future Advocacy Days when IECA members can continue to positively impact the educational consulting profession and the students and families we serve. If you are interested in becoming involved in future Advocacy Days, please contact the Government Relations Committee and consider getting involved in IECA’s advocacy efforts.

By Steven Mercer, EdD, IECA (CA), Mercer Educational Consulting, LLC