Communicating your challenges and successes to state policymakers is a key role and responsibility during your time on your school board.
As a board member, you have tremendous credibility with legislators – they often mention how important it is for them to hear from school board members on education issues. Additionally, you speak as another elected public policymaker, from their district, and charged with doing what is right for local constituents.
Connecting with Legislators
One of the best ways to make connections with legislators is to invite them to schools and other district events. This helps create a bond with the board and the community.
Close connections are best made in the district. Work on building a personal, friendly relationship. Legislators are more likely to respond to a friend than a stranger. Think of yourself as a valuable education resource and partner helping the legislator to be knowledgeable and effective.
As you advocate on behalf of your school district:
Focus on Your Legislators
Knowing your legislators and their staff members is the first step to having your voice heard. The beginning of the school year is a great time to invite legislators to a board meeting or to visit a school. Establishing a connection with your legislator early is a primary step in the process of providing information and getting to know each other before the legislative session begins.
- Know your legislator’s party, committee assignments, priorities, and history.
- Know where their children and grandchildren go to school.
- Find out whether your legislators have been a teacher, board member, or have family members in education.
- Find out why they ran for office and what they hope to accomplish.
- Ask whether they prefer to be contacted by phone, email, or text.
- Ask them to describe their goals and vision for North Carolina education.
- Contact NCSBA for questions to help you determine if candidates or legislators support public education.
Be a Source of Reliable and Credible Information
- Give your legislators your home, work, and cell numbers and your email address so they can reach you at any time. You want legislators to consider your input before a vote or committee hearing.
- Be willing to share your insight and experience as a board member on issues legislators will have to vote on.
- Be ready to provide accurate, persuasive information on how legislation will affect your district and its policies. Use data as well as real-life and community examples of those effects. Work with your superintendent to develop the information you need.
- Build coalitions locally to meet with your legislators together – there is strength in numbers.
Make Your Legislators Experts on Your District
- Provide information on your district at every opportunity.
- Always leave information in writing – political experts still say that a handwritten letter is the best way to communicate with legislators. Even if a legislator prefers receiving email, it’s still good to follow up with a handwritten thank you or more information.
- Send lawmakers copies of your annual progress report to show how your district is working to improve student achievement and be accountable to your community.
- Share good news and accomplishments, especially if they were made possible by past legislation.
- Send news clippings or links from your local newspaper or other publications frequently and particularly when the legislature is in session.
- Invite legislators to your schools, staff development training, board meetings, or PTA meetings.
- Give legislators stories from your community they can use to make their points in floor debates.
Timing Is Everything
- Attend meetings and forums that your legislators hold in their communities.
- Pick a good time to get your point across.
- Obtain a legislative calendar showing when legislators are in their home district or at the capitol. Calendars show when lawmakers should be in committee, in full session, or in the office.
- Use post-vote connections to thank legislators and advocate other issues.
Follow Your Legislators’ Actions
- Ask legislators how they will vote on an issue. Let your legislator know that you need their support or no vote on education issues.
- If a legislator is not supportive, don’t take it personally. You don’t know what’s going on behind the scenes. Remain respectful because there will always be another issue.
- If a legislator was supportive, thank him or her for that support.
- Direct the greatest amount of your time on the undecided majority party members and then the minority party members.
- If a lawmaker strongly opposes your bill, be respectful and move on.
All Politics Are Local
- Recruit local advocates who care about public education to help you explain your students’ needs to your legislators. Talk to chamber of commerce members, service organization partners, church friends, farmers, retired board members, school staff members, and parents – anyone who needs your district to provide the best possible education to your students.
- Encourage citizens to advocate on behalf of your district. Feel free to forward CASB action and legislative alert emails.
SCHOOL BOARD MEMBER LOBBYING PLAN
My Senator is: __________________________________________________________________
My Representative is: _____________________________________________________________
- What are you doing now that you can build on to increase your lobbying effort?
- What can you do to help build a trusting relationship with the legislator(s)?
- Where is the best place and when will be the best time for you to schedule an initial meeting with the legislator(s)?
- Which of your fellow school board members have relationships with your district’s delegation?
- What is your main message?
- What story best illustrates your message?
- After your initial meeting, what steps will you take to become a reliable and trustworthy resource for your legislator(s)?
- How will you gather testimony to present to the legislator(s)?
- What can you do to make visiting a classroom a priority for the legislator(s)?
- What additional steps will you take to maintain a relationship with the legislator(s) throughout his/her tenure?