Legislative action is more than writing a letter. Get to know your Assembly Member and Senator and their staff members. Remember they represent everyone who lives in their district, even if they are of a different party. Positive communication is key, so here are some tips for successful legislative advocacy.
Familiarize legislators with you, your school or district, and your issues. For example, making personal presentations to legislators and staff, or inviting your legislator to visit your school(s), is very powerful. Always call to make an appointment in advance of your visit and remember that staff members communicate regularly with the legislator and are often better acquainted with the specifics of an issue. Never underestimate the importance of a legislator’s staff. If possible, prepare position papers on education issues of concern in your region, e.g. school facilities, transportation, staff/program cutbacks, etc.
Share positive information about your school/district, such as that your school won an award and test scores are up. Invite a legislator to your school site/district to conduct a parent/community forum on a K-12 policy or budget issue. This will provide him or her with an opportunity to speak to the community and help you build a relationship with them. They will also value this input when other issues come before the Legislature for discussion.
Testify at hearings or send written statements, especially if your legislator is on the committee holding the hearing. Communication from constituents is very powerful and emphasizes the lobbyist's efforts. Send letters or faxes, and make phone calls on specific issues to your legislator. Personalize the contact. Send a letter briefly indicating your support or opposition and the reasons why. Do not send form letters or letters asking the author of a bill to support or oppose their own bill.
Be visible! Volunteer to work on their campaign or serve on their advisory committee on education. If they don’t have one, offer to set one up for them. Contribute to their campaign. Better yet, offer to hold a fundraiser for your legislator or a promising candidate. Organize group functions featuring your legislator – banquets, legislative breakfasts, receptions, etc. Establish and participate in a legislative network for administrators in your region to provide rapid communication and action on “hot” legislative issues.
- Get to know your legislators on a first-name basis. Be aware of which committees they are on. Make sure your legislators know you by name and have seen your school/s.
- Become familiar with the legislative process and schedule your legislative efforts/ involvement accordingly. Become aware of election cycles and the political process.
- Be considerate of legislators’ time and schedule demands – make your visit shorter than scheduled. Occasionally, call on your legislators when you don’t want anything specific, but be brief.
- Get to know legislators’ district office staff. Understand the role, the importance and the power of the staff. Try to meet with your legislator in his/her district office.
- Attend legislators’ district fundraisers.
- Familiarize yourself with your legislator’s background and interests. Each legislator has information about themselves on the legislative web sites. Learn more at www.assembly.ca.gov or www.senate.ca.gov.
- Cultivate and maintain variety of community contacts (e.g. business, media, civic, political). Play an appropriate role in the local political process.
- Serve as a resource for your legislators on education issues by being available and willing to listen to your legislators, knowing or finding the facts and delivering on your promises.
- Be aware of and sensitive to political realities and be sure you know your representatives’ agendas, both legislative and political. Know who your legislators’ supporters are.
- Use all methods of communication: personal visits, telephone calls, letters, e-mails and/or mutual friends.
- When requesting information, provide as accurate and complete a description of your request as possible.
- Remember to always say (and write) “thank you.” Follow up meetings with a letter of appreciation and any information promised or pertinent.
- Follow-up with the legislator’s K-12 staff after the meeting. Even if the staff was not in the meeting, the legislator will almost always share the conversation with his or her staff. Providing as much information to staff is helpful as well.
- Know what committees your legislator serves on and what caucuses/groups they belong to. Just because they may not serve on an education-specific committee, does not mean they cannot be helpful on your issues. Likewise, a legislator’s participation in the Women’s Caucus, the Latino Caucus, etc. can open up new avenues of communication and advocacy.
- Be defensive about education issues
- Call your legislator only when you want something or have bad news.
- Just drop in to see your legislator when you could have made an appointment.
- Concentrate on the content of the legislation to the exclusion of the political realities.
- Gang up on members or staff; keep “battalion lobbying” to a minimum.
- Overstay your welcome on legislative visits.
- Use inflated or untrue facts to back up your position.
Stay up to date on ACSA’s Advocacy efforts and events here on our website. Also, keep in contact with the ACSA Governmental Relations department to know what’s happening in Sacramento, ask for help whenever you need it, and to apprise them of any legislative actions or contacts you make (the earlier, the better). Make sure that ACSA has your email address so that you receive periodic updates on important issues and can let the Governmental Relations staff know what’s happening with your legislator.
In April, Legislative Action Day brings ACSA members together in Sacramento for a two-day advocacy conference. ACSA staff and experts in the field provide members with briefings and guidance on current issues in education, giving members the tools and the opportunity to directly lobby the Legislature and carry a message of leadership, support and investment for the students and educators in California.