- “Effective Advocacy for School Leaders: Nine Steps to Effective Advocate for Public Schools” Guide (pdf). This resource is full of information to help you learn about advocacy at different levels of government, keeping your community engaged and contacting legislators.
- “Advocacy Toolkit” (pdf) based on the “Nine Steps.” This toolkit and accompanying plan template (word doc) is designed to be used with any size group as a step-by-step process to creating an advocacy plan for your community. Use it as a board, with site councils, with community groups, with PTOs or PTAs, with students’ any group who has something to say!
- Excel data base provides a way to quickly create a data-sheet about your district. We suggest you use this with “Step 2” in the “Advocacy Toolkit” as you prepare to tell your school’s story to your community and legislators.
KASB staff is ready and willing to come to your community and help facilitate the discussion. Association staff traveled to Stafford in late November to participate in a joint meeting of five school boards in that community. They used the “Advocacy Toolkit” to create consensus on issues about school funding. If you would be interested in KASB helping with the process, call or email Carol Pitts, KASB assistant executive director/marketing & PR, 785-273-3600, email@example.com.
What is advocacy?
“The board serves as education’s key advocates on behalf of students and their schools in the community in order to advance the community’s vision for its schools, pursue its goals, encourage progress, energize systemic change, and deal with children as whole persons in a diversified society.”
“The Local School Board and the New Realities,” National School Boards Association
In the broadest sense, advocacy means any effort to advance or defend the interest of an individual or group. To put more simply, it means trying to get what you want for yourself or someone else. When there is not enough resources to go around or when people disagree on the conduct of their relationships, conflict occurs. Advocacy is usually defined as taking place within the political or governmental sector: the legislative process, executive agencies and the courts. This is because government has the ultimate responsibility to resolve these conflicts by passing and enforcing laws; committing public resources; defining rights and obligations; and deciding guilt or innocence, punishment or remedy.
Why is school board advocacy important?
Because local boards of education are part of the political system in Kansas and because school board members are elected officials, board members may see themselves as the people making the decisions, instead of trying to influence the decisions. There are a number of reasons why school board members cannot function effectively if they ignore the larger political environment.
The Kansas Constitution charges the Kansas State Board of Education with the “general supervision” of schools and other education interests of the state.
- Although the Kansas Constitution requires public schools be “managed, developed and operated by locally elected boards,” school boards do not have “self-executing” powers. School board authority is granted by the Legislature. Recent changes in state statute allow local school boards the flexibility to have local control. They can maximize their functions and operate more efficiently by doing things that are not specifically prohibited by law.
- Local school boards do not have independent authority to raise revenue. The Legislature decides what kind of taxes or fees school boards can impose and defines the tax base on which school taxes are levied. The Legislature also imposes controls on school district budgets and spending.
- State and federal laws and regulations have a great impact on the management and operation of school districts. For example, a few of the areas affected include: employee rights, benefits and working conditions, building and transportation safety codes, student and staff civil rights, and investment and accounting practices.
- The primary responsibility of schools is to educate students. But neither schools nor children exist in a vacuum. Other institutions also touch the lives of children. Local governments deal with the safety of a child’s walk to and from school, or the provision of health services. Other agencies deal with children whose families cannot or will not support them. Disadvantaged or disabled children may need help the school alone cannot provide.
In each of these cases, the ability of school boards to carry out their mission is affected by decisions made at other levels of government. School board advocacy means working to influence those decisions in the interests of local education.
The focus of school board advocacy
The Kansas Legislature is perhaps the most important group to school board advocacy because the Legislature controls the purse strings and defines the scope of authority for local boards. Working with the Legislature is relatively easy: every school board member is represented in the Legislature by a senator and representative; the Legislature is in session for approximately 90 days; and education is the largest function of state government.
Under the Kansas Constitution, the Kansas State Board of Education has the power of “general supervision” over school districts, and approves most of the regulations that govern the day-to-day operation of school programs.
The role of the U.S. Congress in education changed dramatically with the passage of NCLB. The impact of federal laws, from special education requirements to mandates in such areas as smoking, weapons, school lunches and nutrition on district programs and budgets has grown over the years. NCLB has raised federal involvement to new heights. Increased requirements for assessments will dramatically change the daily classroom routine. This makes advocacy work at the federal level, although a daunting task, even more important.
Local governments, like cities and counties, have little direct influence over schools, but cooperative relationships between these units may be the most effective way to improve the overall climate for learning.
School board members need to understand each of these governmental levels, be able to follow their activities, and know how to communicate and influence their decisions.