With the legislative session winding down it is a good time to start planning meetings with your legislators, particularly if you do not already have regular meetings scheduled. We know many districts do meet regularly with their legislators to build better relationships. (The WASB highly encourages boards to do so!)
The WASB Effective Legislative Advocacy Toolkit (available online) is a resource school board members can use to help in planning for such meetings (and in improving your advocacy efforts generally). Here are some tips from the toolkit to keep in mind:
- Meetings with legislators are important and should be held as regularly as possible because the more time legislators spend with you and your students, the more likely they are to support your cause.
- Provide legislators with the topics to be discussed at the meeting in advance. This gives them the opportunity to do research and more productively discuss the issues that are important to you. There is no reason to make these meetings a “gotcha” session and nothing to be gained from doing so. A key purpose of these meetings is to build relationships and to encourage legislators to support your schools on an ongoing basis. You want a productive exchange that builds greater understanding on the part of all participants.
- When legislators support your position, give them credit. Start your meeting by thanking them for initiatives that are helpful or compromises they have reached that are helpful before you move into areas where you disagree and/or need help. Alternatively, you can send your legislators letters of thanks and share the letters with the local media, comment on their support publicly, or call to thank them personally. Don’t forget to use social media (Facebook, Twitter, etc.) for sharing these communications.
- The goal of effective communication is to build credibility with your legislators so that they will look to you when they need feedback or information, especially on education issues. They are more likely to consider you a source of information when they can put a specific issue together with your name and face. Legislators are not experts in all subjects. Good legislators seek input from their constituents, especially those who are thoughtful, knowledgeable and reliable and who can help them understand how their decisions affect their constituents.
- Take photos of the visit and post them on your website, Facebook and Twitter.
- Be respectful and courteous in your discussions. Legislators are your guests. Treat them as you would want to be treated if you were in their position. Give legislators the opportunity to be heard even if you disagree with their position on an issue. As you build relationships with your legislators, remember that you are not just another interest group in the crowd, but a fellow elected official. Behave accordingly.