Advocacy Tips

  • 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, cpitts@kasb.org.

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.

  • Act – A legislative measure passed by both chambers and signed by the governor/president, passed over veto, or allowed to become effective without signature.
  • Adjournment – To end a legislative day. Recess does not end a legislative day. (See Sine Die Adjournment.)
  • Amendment – A proposal to change or an actual change to a bill, a motion, an act, or the Constitution.
  • Apportionment – Allocation of legislative seats by law. The U.S. and Kansas Constitutions require members of the U.S. House and most other elected officials represent the same number of people, based on the federal census taken every 10 years.
  • Appropriation – A provision by a legislature of funds for a specific purpose.
    Authorization – An act approving a project, program or activity, outlining its purposes and procedures, assigning authority for its administration and fixing maximum amounts to be expended upon it. Usually refers to federal programs.
  • Bill – Draft of a proposed new law, or amendments or repeal of existing laws.
  • Bill Numbering – A process of numbering bills as they are introduced from the beginning of each session. Bills bear the designation of the chamber in which they originate. Bills in the U.S. House of Representatives are designated as HR # and Senate bills as SB #. In Kansas, House bills are HB # and Senate bills are SB #.
  • Budget Authority – Congressional appropriations which allow federal agencies to incur obligations to spend or lend money.
  • Budget Deficit – The amount by which government budget outlays exceed budget receipts for a given fiscal year. The state of Kansas is prohibited from operating under a deficit budget.
  • Calendar – A list of bills or resolutions to be considered by a committee in the House or the Senate. In Kansas, it is printed daily to show all scheduled committee and chamber action.
  • Call – An order to compel the attendance of members who may be absent from the chambers until all have voted.
  • Carry-over Bills – In Kansas, bills introduced in odd-numbered years retain their numbers and may be acted on during the following session.
  • Categorical Programs – Grant-in-aid programs designed to deal with specific problems, implement narrowly defined policies and priorities, or benefit certain classes of recipients.
  • Caucus – The meeting of members of a political party in a legislative body, usually to decide policy or select members to fill positions. Also refers to the group itself.
  • Chamber – Either the House of Representatives or the Senate.
  • Cloture – A parliamentary device for halting debate and bringing an issue to a vote; used in the U.S. Senate to end filibusters.
  • Committee of the Whole – On the federal level, business is expedited in the 435-member House of Representatives when it resolves itself to the “Committee of the Whole House on the State of the Union.” Rules are relaxed and a quorum is easier to obtain. A minimum of 100 members can comprise the committee. In Kansas, bills are usually debated, amended and recommended for passage in “Committee of the Whole,” then voted on by the full membership of either chamber the next day without debate. However, bills may be considered “emergencied to final action, subject to amendment, debate and roll call.”
  • Concurrent Resolution – A resolution that must pass both the House and the Senate, but does not require the president’s/governor’s signature, nor does it have the force of law.
  • Conference Committee – A committee composed of senators and representatives named to work out differences between same-subject bills passed by both chambers. Conference Committee recommendations (or “reports”) cannot be amended.
  • Congress and Session – A Congress extends over two calendar years and each Congress is divided into two sessions.
  • Congressional Record – The printed, daily account of debates, votes and comments in the House and Senate published by the Government Printing Office.
  • Consent Calendar – Non-controversial bills which are voted upon without debate or amendment. If members object, these bills are placed on the regular calendar.
  • Continuing Resolution – A resolution enacted by Congress and signed by the president that allows federal agencies to continue operations until their regular appropriations bills are enacted.
  • Dead or Killed Bill – A bill which cannot be acted upon again that session. However, due to amendments and rule changes, few bills can really be considered “dead.”
  • Discretionary Programs – Grant-in-aid programs for which competitive applications are made directly to federal agencies, bypassing the state.
  • Division Vote – The votes of members are counted but individual votes are not recorded. In Kansas, committee votes are not recorded.
  • Emergencied to Final Action – Allows a bill or resolution to be voted on for final action on the same day it was first considered.
  • Enacting Clause – The initial language in a bill saying “Be it enacted.” To kill a bill, a member will move to “strike the enacting clause.”
  • Ending Balance – The balance in the state treasury on the last day of a fiscal year.
  • Engrossed Bill – The final copy of a bill that has passed the House or the Senate. The text amended by floor action is incorporated into the bill.
  • Enrolled Bill – The final copy of a bill that has been passed in identical form by both the House and the Senate.
  • Entitlement Programs – Programs for which individuals receive federal assistance by virtue of meeting specific eligibility requirements such as age and economic need, i.e., social security, school lunch.
  • Federal Register – Daily periodical which is the official notice board of the federal government. Publishes proposed and final regulations, grants announcements, etc.
  • Filibuster – Talking and debating a bill in an effort to change it or kill it. Easier in the U.S. Senate than the U.S. House because of the Senate’s more relaxed rules controlling debate.
  • Final Action – When the House or Senate takes a final vote on a bill. At this point a bill must have a constitutional majority to pass.
  • Fiscal Year – Financial year of the government which does not coincide with the calendar year. (October 1 – September 30 for Federal; July 1 – June 30 for Kansas).
  • Fiscal Note – A cost estimate for a particular bill prepared by the state budget division.
  • Floor Action – Taken by a quorum of the full membership of either chamber on a bill or other measure as reported by a committee.
  • Forward Funding – Appropriation of federal funds for use in a fiscal year one or more years later than the year in which the appropriation was enacted to allow the recipients additional time for programming, i.e., Chapter One and vocational education.
  • Full Funding – Appropriations for programs which equal the maximum amount specified in the authorizing legislation.
  • General Orders – The section of the calendar listing bills to be taken up by the entire Kansas House or Senate. Occurs when either house sits as committee of the whole. Ordinarily debate and amendment take place at this point. A bill needs only the approval of a majority of those present and voting to move on to final action.
  • Germane – Pertaining to the subject matter of the measure at hand.
  • Hopper – Box where proposed federal bills are placed.
  • House of Origin – The chamber where a bill or resolution was introduced.
  • Joint Committee – A committee composed of a specified number of representatives and senators for special policy studies.
  • Joint Resolution – A federal resolution that must pass both the House and Senate, receive the president’s signature, and has the force of law if so approved.
  • Journal – The printed, daily account of debates, votes and comments of the Kansas House and Senate.
  • Kansas Register – Published weekly by the secretary of state to report official state Law – A bill that has been signed by the president/governor or passed over veto.
  • Markup – The section-by-section review and revision of a bill by committee members.
  • Motion – Proposed action by a legislative body.
  • Omnibus Reconciliation – In Kansas, usually the final appropriation bill passed. It makes adjustments if needed to maintain a legally required ending balance.
  • Omnibus Appropriation – A bill passed at the end of the Kansas session to finance new programs passed by the Legislature and any other “clean-up” matters.
  • Override of Veto – A process whereby a legislative body annuls, or overrides, a veto of a bill. It requires a two-thirds vote in each chamber.
  • Pair – An agreement by two members of Congress to be recorded on opposite sides of an issue when one or both will be absent when the votes are not counted but they make their positions known.
  • Pocket Veto – An action of the president in withholding approval of a bill after Congress has adjourned either for the year or for a specified period.
  • Point of Order – An objection by a member that a rule is being violated.
  • Quorum – The number of members of a legislative body who must be present before business may be conducted.
  • Recess – A temporary halt in the proceedings of a chamber.
  • Reference of Bills (Reference to Committee) – After a bill is introduced, its title is read and it is assigned to a committee.
  • Regulation – Rule made by an executive officer charged with the administration of a law for the guidance of his/her agency and the persons and organizations affected.
  • Report – A committee’s written record of its actions and views on a bill. The committee “reports” its findings to the House or Senate, which must vote to adopt the report for committee amendments to be effective.
  • Resolution – A formal statement of a decision or opinion by the House or Senate or both. A simple resolution is made by one chamber and generally deals with that chamber’s rules or prerogatives.
  • Rider – A provision added to a bill so it may “ride” to approval on the strength of the bill. Generally, riders are placed on the appropriations bills.
  • Roll Call Vote – The vote of each member is recorded. Roll call votes are required on final action. They may be required for other votes if a sufficient number of members request.
  • Sergeant-at-Arms – Legislative officer who maintains order and controls access to the chamber at the direction of the presiding officer.
  • Sine Die Adjournment – To adjourn without setting a time to meet again. It denotes the end of a legislative session.
  • Special, Select or Ad Hoc Committees – These committees are created for a specific investigation oversight function, are more apt to die and have functions routed to a standing committee.
  • Substitute Bill – When a committee recommends major amendments to a bill, it may propose a new or substitute bill with the same number.
  • Substitute Motion – A proposed alternative to the primary motion. If a substitute motion passes, the primary motion is not considered. If it fails, the body returns to the primary motion. Legislative rules do not always allow a substitute motion.
  • Supplemental Appropriations – Considered after passage of regular (annual) appropriations bills. They are acted on before the end of the fiscal year to which they apply.
  • Suspend the Rules – A motion intended to quickly bring a bill to a vote.
  • Table a Bill – A motion to, in effect, put a bill aside and thereby remove it from consideration or kill it.
  • Teller Vote – A vote in the U.S. House whereby members’ votes are counted “for” or “against” as they file past tellers in the front of the chamber. A count is taken but there is no official record of how each representative voted.
  • Unanimous Consent – A time-saving procedure for non-controversial measures whereby measures are adopted without a vote. A member simply says “I ask unanimous consent” for ____ (and states his proposal).
  • Union Calendar – The federal calendar on which money bills are placed in order of date reported from committees.
  • Veto – Right of the President of the United States and the Governor of Kansas to return a bill or joint resolution unsigned to the House of origin in 10 days of its delivery after passage, thereby preventing it from becoming law unless it can be re-passed over veto. The 10-day period excludes Sundays and holidays.
    Voice Vote – Members answer “yes” or “no” in unison. The presiding officer decides the result. How a member voted is not recorded.
  • Yield – The request, “Will the representative/senator yield?” is an expression used to seek permission from a member already speaking on the floor to be recognized.

January

  • Newly-elected state officers, legislators and Kansas State Board of Education members take office. (Odd-numbered years)
  • Newly elected members of Congress take office.
  • Kansas Legislature convenes. (Second Monday)
  • Governor’s State of the State and budget message. (Usually the second day of session)
  • Kansas State Board of Education organizes.
  • KASB/USA|Kansas Advocacy In Action Conference
  • KASB Advocacy Webinars Begin Weekly on Fridays at 12:30 p.m.

February

  • Legislature considers bills in the first house.
  • President’s State of the Union and budget message to Congress.
  • NSBA Federal Conference (Washington, D.C.)

March

  • Legislative “turnaround;” most bills must pass the first house or are dead for the session.
  • Legislature considers bills in the second house.

April

  • Legislative “first adjournment;” most bills must be sent to the Governor.
  • Legislature convenes to consider vetoed bills, omnibus and reconciliation bills.
  • Local school board elections  (Odd-numbered years—first Tuesday)

May

  • Sine Die Adjournment.

June

  • NEW! June 1 Filing Deadline for Candidacy for School Board
  • KASB Legislative Committee begins development of policy changes.
  • Interim legislative committees assigned.
  • Filing deadline for General Election (Even-numbered years).

July

  • State fiscal year begins.
  • State Board begins budget development for next fiscal year.

August

  • NEW! School Board Candidate Primary Election, if needed
  • Primary Election. (Even-numbered years – second Tuesday)
  • KASB Legislative Committee finalizes recommendations to Delegate Assembly.
  • State Board finalizes budget request for next fiscal year.

September

  • Congress completes federal budget appropriations, or passes continuing resolution.

October

  • Federal fiscal year begins.

November

  • NEW! School Board Candidate General Election
  • General Election. (Even-numbered years – second Tuesday)
  • Interim legislative committees report to the next session.

December

  • KASB Delegate Assembly adopts policy positions.
  • Legislative caucuses choose leaders.  (House in even-numbered years; Senate every four years)

The media is an important route for school board members to get their message across. The impact of the local media in the district far outweighs the impact of the national media. An editorial in the hometown newspaper carries the most weight. Through the media you can:

  • Rally others to join you in support of legislation or local issues of importance to school boards;
  • Expand your influence far beyond your board;
  • Educate and mobilize the public on key educational issues; and
  • Publicize the needs and activities of your school district.

News Releases

A news release is the basic means of official communication with the media. To be effective, each message should tell the facts-who, what, when, where and how. Each release should also be dated and a contact person listed. Here are some other tips:

  • Write an attention-grabbing headline;
  • Write the release to read like a news story;
  • Present your viewpoint in the most positive way;
  • Make your school board or school district the active player in the first sentence and quote a spokesperson;
  • Include a release date, contact name and contact phone number;
  • Make a mailing list of local media outlets;
  • Learn the times for news shows and deadline times for newspapers;
  • Keep a clipping file of all education stories so you will get to know which reporters cover which topics; and
  • Provide the press release to other local groups and civic organizations who may be supportive of your position.

Letter to the Editor

A letter to the editor is a useful way to speak out on an issue, respond to an article or editorial, or express your position in your own words. Concentrate on writing letters to the editor for your local newspapers since that will have the greatest impact. Even a letter that does not get published is valuable because it may be considered by a newspaper’s editorial board reviewing an issue. Follow these guidelines when writing a letter to the editor:

  • Be brief and focus on one issue-long letters may be edited;
  • Refer to a recent event or an article;
  • Close your letter by asking readers to contact their legislators;
  • Give your address, school district and phone number so the newspaper can verify authorship (ask that your phone number not be published); and
  • If published, clip your letter and mail it to your legislators.

News Conferences

A news conference should be reserved for a time when there is some significant development. Try to pick a date when there is a “news hook,” and articles are likely to already be written on your subject.

  • Make sure there is not a big competing event;
  • Best times to hold a conference are 10:00 a.m., 11:00 a.m., 1:00 p.m. or 2:00 p.m.;
  • Notify press ahead of time with date, time, location and importance;
  • If making a group presentation, identify a spokesperson; and
  • Keep comments brief and provide a written copy of speeches.

Building a positive relationship is important, but you also need a plan for success in the governmental process. That plan requires effective lobbying. Here are the basic rules.

RULE 1

Know what you want. Through your board’s vision and planning, identify your district’s needs. When action by some other level of government is required to address those needs, that action becomes your lobbying objective.

RULE 2

Know the calendar. Understand when elected bodies will be in session and their schedule for taking action on your issue.

RULE 3

Research your legislators’ backgrounds, committee assignments and voting records on your issues to find out how they can be most helpful.

RULE 4

Develop positive, working relationships with your legislators by visiting, writing and calling. But, do not overdo your lobbying. Call or write on specific issues and only when you have something to say.

RULE 5

Invite your legislators to events in the district. Ask them to tour your school district and see programs in action. Lobby with your real life experience and how legislation will affect your students. It’s your most persuasive tool.

RULE 6

Set priorities. When everything is important, nothing is important. This applies to how you spend your time as well as what you communicate to your legislators. They probably will not  support you on every issue. Let them know what is the most important.

RULE 7

Shore up lobbying allies from your community to demonstrate broad support.

RULE 8

Do not forget the media. Getting your message out to the press can influence your legislators and public opinion.

RULE 9

Always be positive and courteous. In politics, no permanent friends, no permanent enemies, but always politeness.

RULE 10

Everyone likes a pat on the back. Remember to thank your legislators for jobs well-done.

Advocacy is a year-round responsibility. You need to work with elected officials all year, not just when they are in session or you need help on an issue. Here are some general tips:

  • Invest the time to know your elected representatives, from the county commission to congress.
  • The better you know them, the better you can adjust the way you approach them.
  • Use both direct and indirect methods. Direct is working with your legislators one-on-one. Indirect is a grassroots effort involving all interested parties.
  • Relate to the legislators in a personal way through shared community activities or business ties.
  • Be positive and show appreciation for legislators’ service and past votes. Never be abusive or threatening. Always thank legislators for time and support.
  • Always offer to supply information or be of assistance.
  • Make sure legislators understand your district’s situation. Provide a district “fact sheet” to your legislators. Make sure legislators are receiving district publications.
  • Attend town meetings or forums, public hearings, or any other opportunities to listen, learn and provide information.
  • Always state your purpose, but be open to compromise.
  • Always be honest. If you don’t know the answer to a question, say so. If possible, find out the information and call or write back. Officials hate being “set up.” Your reputation will suffer.
  • Treat your legislators like you want your constituents to treat you.
  • Find out how your legislators want to be contacted.

An important task you need to perform before lobbying an elected official is to learn “where they’re coming from.” This will help you determine your most effective lobbying method and make you more comfortable working with the official. It will also improve your success in influencing the legislator to vote favorably on your issues.

A good place to start is to look over the profile of the officials with whom you will be working. This will provide you with basic information such as marital status, children, religious affiliation and educational background. You also need to specifically look at the political profile. Some examples are:

  • What is the party affiliation?
  • When was the legislator first elected?
  • How did they fare in the latest election?
  • Have they served as an elected official on another level or in a different capacity?
  • Do they participate in any organizations or associations at the governing level?

All of these questions are important to help you build a “character analysis,” identify similarities and make you aware of danger zones.

Most information about publicly elected officials is available, you just have to know where to look. KASB maintains information on the Kansas Legislature that provides many details you will find helpful. You can also work with your local library, the state library or the secretary of state. State and federal election commissioners can also supply you with public information.

To improve your success, you also need to understand why elected officials vote the way they do and have conversations with them about why they voted a certain way. Sometimes, understanding why an official voted the way they did is easy and explainable. Other times, it’s complex and perplexing. You need to understand what, or who, has the greatest influence over the legislators and understand no legislator will probably vote with you 100 percent of the time .

Some elected officials vote based on one factor-the wishes of their constituency. This wish is usually expressed in letters and phone calls, but there may be times when the desires of the constituents are not clear, or they are divided. What determines their vote then? This is when a strong relationship with your legislators proves valuable. If they know they can count on your opinions and your suggestions, they will give more credibility to your position. This is not to imply that all constituents don’t have an equal voice, but on certain issues, your voice will be heard above the others.

Elected officials must also weigh how votes will be interpreted. Some examples are:

  • Will votes be viewed as protective for the district or as an attempt to do what is best for the entire legislative body’s jurisdiction?
  • Do votes seem to reflect the individual’s concerns and agenda above that of the district?

Most elected officials strive to please their constituency in all ways possible. If not, they will not be successful in re-election bids and will no longer have constituents to represent.

Knowing more about elected officials, what motivates them and how they perceive their own decision-making can make you a more effective lobbyist. And, the more effective you are, the stronger advocate you become for public education.

Letters

  • Be factual and support your position with information.  A clear and concise explanation of your position is best  understood;
  • Remain courteous, do not threaten or cajole. Simply explain local impact;
  • Offer to provide additional information or arrange a meeting;
  • Send a second letter thanking the legislators for their  favorable action; and
  • Address the elected official properly.

Faxes

  • Plusses: A quick way to get clear and concise points across.
  • Minuses: If the issue being addressed is of great interest, fax machines can become overloaded, and possibly ignored.

To have the greatest impact when faxing communications,  you should:

  • Identify your position and school district on cover sheet;
  • Follow the general guidelines for letters;
  • State how and why you want the legislators to vote on the issue; and
  • Use this method as a last resort.

E-mails

  • Plusses: Extremely quick way to get your points across while also providing a permanent record.
  • Minuses: Sometimes too quick and impersonal. Also, if your email doesn’t indicate in the subject line or early on in the message that you are a constituent, it might well be deleted.

To have the greatest impact when e-mailing your communication, you should:

  • Make sure you identify your position and your school district in the opening paragraph of the e-mail;
  • Follow the general guidelines for letters;
  • State how and why you want the legislators to vote on the issue; and
  • Recognize that e-mails are often used for mass legislative contacts on major issues and therefore might not receive the careful consideration due.