Communicating with Legislators
Legislators want and need to hear from their constituents. Each legislator must consider a vast number of issues. On the Federal level, these issues are divided amongst staff. On the state level, depending on the legislator and his or her position within the General Assembly, the policymaker may have very few staff and be focusing on issues alone.
Legislators and staff rely on many resources, including the Allegheny Intermediate Unit and education experts like you. Remember, no matter what form of communication you use, always be prepared, friendly, respectful of your legislator’s time, and thank him or her for their efforts.
All types of communication with policymakers will rely on a few key points:
Know Your Legislator
Educate yourself about your legislator. Find out what education issues he or she has supported in the past, what school districts are located in his or her district, and what his or her political philosophy encompasses. Answering these questions will prepare you for communicating and building a relationship. Most legislators have bios, political philosophies and positions on education on their websites or on the General Assembly’s website: http://www.legis.state.pa.us/.
When you reach out to your legislators, be sure to identify yourself as a constituent and share your school and municipality information. If you are advocating at the request of an organization like PSEA, PSBA, PASBO, etc., be sure to mention that in your introduction.
Some legislators prefer hard data, while others rely on personal success stories. The majority prefer both. When communicating with a legislator, prepare data information on your school district including graduation rates, building performance data, teacher evaluation information, and anything else that will help support your case. Be sure to personalize this data by having a few success stories of students and teachers. Keep in mind that data has a greater impact when there is a face to it.
Be Specific and Concise
Whether you are emailing, calling, or meeting with a legislator, include a specific request of the policymaker to address your concerns. Often legislators will be non-committal when responding to a request, but always remain friendly and ask the legislator what additional information you can provide to encourage his or her support. When preparing hand-outs, remember that legislators and staff have limited time to devote to one issue, summarize your points into a one to two page document. When sharing this with your legislator, highlight a few key points.
Follow issues throughout the legislative process and be prepared to contact your legislator several times on one issue. You can contact the legislator prior to a committee vote, before a floor vote or when there is a lot of press activity on the issue.
Continuing the Conversation
It is important to continue the conversation throughout the year with your legislators. Here are a few ways to keep the conversation going, even when a specific advocacy campaign has ended:
- Congratulate the legislators on awards, elections, and any actions that support education.
- Share district's newsletters, news articles, adopted policies, safety plans, community and school events, etc.
- Invite your policymakers to visit your school/program
- Attend community meetings where legislators are present and express concern during the open forum.
Some content was provided through the Association for Career and Technical Education (http://www.acteonline.org)