April advocacy tip: testify at a JFC budget hearing

As we posted earlier, the dates and locations of four public hearings of the legislature’s powerful Joint Finance Committee (JFC) on the state budget have been announced. Members of interest groups and the general public may testify, while testimony from lobbyists is frowned upon. These hearings are a great chance for your board to provide testimony highlighting the most important issues for your district.

The WASB encourages and facilitates school board member participation at these hearings and a member of the GR staff (Dan Rossmiller or Chris Kulow) will be present at each of these hearings to help with logistics (e.g., getting you registered to speak) and to answer questions.

  • Friday, April 5 – Pontiac Convention Center, Janesville (Chris)
  • Wednesday, April 10 – Oak Creek Community Center (Dan)
  • Monday, April 15– University of Wisconsin – River Falls (Dan)
  • Wednesday, April 24 – University of Wisconsin – Green Bay (Chris)

If you know you plan to testify at a hearing, please let Dan or Chris know.  Each hearing is scheduled to begin at 10am and end at 5pm.

Here are some tips for testifying and for what to expect:

Before the Hearing

  • Prepare your testimony in advance.  WASB Day at the Capitol materials are a great resource for preparing testimony. You can bring a written copy of your testimony to the committee to explain your points in greater detail or cover additional points. The committee staff present on site will make copies for you and distribute them to all committee member offices when they return to Madison. (As noted below, you’ll be given only a brief time for your comments, so focus your oral comments on the most important (key) points.  Use your written comments to go into more detail.)  Practice reading your comments aloud with a timer so you know how much you can say in two minutes.  Edit them, if necessary, so you’re sure to get your key points in.
  • Bring a pen and notepad to use for taking notes.  You may want to eliminate points that were made earlier by others and focus on other points depending on how the hearing goes.  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 JFC hearings or other committee hearings on Wisconsin Eye to become familiar with how a public hearing operates.
  • Even if your legislator is not on the Joint Finance Committee (JFC), if a hearing is held in or near your district, there is a good chance your local legislators will attend (sometimes they will even fill in for JFC members). Introduce yourself, and say what school board you represent and what message you hope to convey.  It’s another chance to build your relationship with the lawmaker(s) who represent your district.

At the Hearing

  • In order to testify, you will need to fill out a registration slip. Find the Capitol staff assigned to the venue to obtain a registration form.  Typically they are seated at a registration table. Fill out the form and return it to the staff.  Make sure to indicate you are there to speak.
  • Be prepared to wait for possibly several hours before you are called to testify.  Because this year’s hearings will be held in only four locations around the state, each hearing is likely to attract hundreds of people who wish to speak. 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.
  • Maximize your presence. Because these hearings draw a crowd, a strict time limit will be imposed on those testifying (~2 min.). Those testifying as part of a group of three or more are typically given more time (~5 min.). To make efficient use of limited time, consider grouping together with other board members/administrators who can attend. Before you are called make sure everyone knows who is going to do the talking or how you are splitting up what you want to say. Two minutes can fly by, so don’t spend time on pleasantries, get to the main points. Be prepared to lead with your local situation and examples of how the proposed budget will impact your district.
  • Make sure to check in with WASB staff at the hearing or afterwards to make sure we know about your testimony and you are properly credited with board member recognition points.  There may be hundreds of people at these hearings and we don’t want to miss anybody who deserves proper acknowledgement.

After the Hearing

  • Take care to follow up on any questions asked during your testimony or requests for additional information, if any.
  • Send copies of your testimony to your local legislators.
  • Finally, feel a great sense of accomplishment for participating in your state government as an advocate for kids!  THANK YOU!!!