How to Be Your District’s Best Advocate with Legislators

legislature

By Natalie Allen

Public education is increasingly politicized, so it is more important than ever for school systems to stay engaged when it comes to legislation and its potential impact on their day-to-day operations.

In Virginia, we are seeing an increasing number of bills come through the legislative session that have to do with everything from changing how we gather and report student data, to potential legislative task forces on school safety and behavioral support.

This has blurred the line between communication and advocacy, so I developed this list of quick tips on how to best advocate for your school system while staying above the fray of partisan politics:

  • It is our job as communications and public relations experts to advocate for school system issues and priorities, not only in messaging to our parents, students and staff, but also to our state and local officials. It also is important to ask officials how they like to receive information. For example, we send out our legislative agenda every year and let them know we’re always available for a phone call or email.
  • Make it a point to invite elected officials to tour some of your schools when they are writing up bills and voting on legislation, because it is key that they know and understand what is really happening in today’s classrooms. Education has changed drastically over the years, and it is important that they see first-hand what it looks like now.
  • Become a resource that your legislators can depend on. Let them know that when it comes to education, you know the issues. So often, legislators have good intentions but don’t always know the real-world impacts of enacting certain legislation. It is always good for them to know that you are someone they can depend on and call when they need to hear the truth about a bill’s potential impact.
  • Make sure your school community is aware of your school system’s legislative priorities. So often, this task is left up to school board members, but you have more avenues for outreach and PR savvy at your disposal in your school public relations office. Use newsletters, blogs and community meetings to make stakeholders aware of potential impacts of impending legislation, and build a coalition of support.
  • If you have the luxury as a school system of having a government relations liaison or a lobbyist who acts on your behalf during legislative sessions, make sure to engage with them on a regular basis. Ask them where they see gaps in information about your school system in the legislature, and then fill in those gaps if possible.
  • If you are able, visit the place where the action is happening. A trip to your state capitol could prove really helpful. Knowing how things work while legislators are in session will help you understand how to best communicate and advocate for your school system’s needs, and elected officials like getting face time with their constituents.
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