February Advocacy Tip: Prepare to testify at school funding hearings

The Blue Ribbon Commission on School Funding has begun what will be a series of hearings around the state to take testimony from the public on the state’s funding formula. The first hearing is set to take place Friday, February 2 in Milwaukee. The rest of the hearing dates and locations have not yet been announced.

It is important that public school board members and administrators testify at these hearings.  The commission needs to hear the challenges the current funding system creates for your school district and, most importantly, the impact it has on opportunities for your students.

If you have testified at a budget hearing before, it is likely that the process will be very similar except, based on the more targeted subject matter, it will be less crowded and you will be afforded more time to speak. For the first hearing, members of the public are instructed to prepare for having five minutes to testify. While this may not seem like a lot of time, it is more than double the two minutes typical for budget hearings. Here are some other tips to help you prepare:

  • Is there a commission member from your area?  Do members have any discernible connections to your district (alumni, relatives attend, etc.)? If a hearing is held near your district there is a good chance your local legislators will attend even if they are not on the commission.
  • Prepare your testimony in advance. You can type up testimony word for word on your district’s letterhead and have it distributed to the commission when you testify. To cover members and staff, bring at least 20 copies for distribution. Again, and we can’t stress this enough, focus on your district’s circumstances and challenges with the funding formula and the impact on your students.
  • It is more likely you will be asked questions by the commission members than it would be at a budget hearing. Bring a pen and notepad to use for taking notes.  Try to anticipate possible questions/challenges to your position before and during the hearing. Listen carefully as other school leaders testify so you can get a sense of what those questions/challenges might be.
  • If you’ve never been to a hearing before, it can be helpful to watch portions of prior hearings on Wisconsin Eye to become familiar with how a public hearing operates.  Watching prior blue ribbon commission hearings is also useful for preparation as you will be able to see how other public school districts were received and what questions were asked of them.

At the Hearing

  • In order to testify, you will need to fill out a registration slip. Find the Capitol staff (typically they are seated at a registration table) assigned to the venue to obtain a slip.  Fill out the slip indicating you are there to speak and return it to the staff.
  • People are called to testify in the order they register.  In general, the earlier you are able to get to the hearing site and register, the earlier you will be able to speak.
  • When you are called to testify, briefly thank the commission co-chairs and members for the opportunity to testify and identify yourself and your school district.  If your legislator is on the committee or is present, make a note of that before beginning.  Keep your comments on subject because you will not have a lot of time.
  • Following your testimony, commission members may wish to ask you questions regarding your comments, experience or your district. If you don’t know the answer, acknowledge the question and offer to provide the information with a follow-up email.

Read More: