Each year, early January marks the beginning of many legislative sessions across the country. (At last count, 35 state legislatures have already convened.) For many advocates, this annual milestone is both exhausting and exhilarating, as opportunities arise to push forward important progress and defend past wins for kids.
Preparation, preparation, preparation.
After months of research, strategy sessions, and visits with legislators, teachers, parents, and students, Network members are ready to push for their organization’s legislative agendas and respond to new challenges. Of course, leaders are concerned not only with prepping policy arguments, but also setting up their teams for success and effectively working with new legislators. Below, advocates across the Network share examples and insights into their start-of-session strategies.
Session Success Hinges on Strategic Preparation
In the midst of the hustle and bustle of session, the workday often requires long hours and mentally demanding work from the entire organization—a true team effort. Organizational leaders are cognizant about both pushing forward their organization’s agenda and keeping their team sharp mentally, physically, and emotionally.
Elisha Smith Arrillaga, the interim co-executive director of The Education Trust-West, gave insight into their team’s preparation strategy: “As the legislative session gears up, our team is poised and ready for whatever comes their way by engaging in lots of pre-planning conversations and taking in any new information day by day and integrating it quickly.”
Marc Porter Magee, CEO and founder of 50CAN, reflected on how important it is to celebrate the little successes. As teams set off on the “hard, grueling journey from a policy idea to a policy win,” it’s important to make time to share the things “that give you hope and joy: a quote from a parent or teacher you are working with, a photo from the field, an important step forward in your plan.”
“It’s crucial to surround yourself with people who are just as excited as you are in these small steps forward.”
Advocates Work to Educate, Build Relationships with New Legislators
With new legislative sessions comes new legislators, who also need to be prepared to grapple with potential changes to state education systems. Members take a variety of approaches to catching new legislators up to speed.
In an effort to inform policymakers while also setting up their organization as a valuable resource, some advocates create explanatory guides on the state’s education system. Tennessee SCORE produces and distributes a policymakers’ guide to the state’s education system, which serves as a starting point for discussing education in Tennessee.
SCORE’s guide presents nonpartisan information, covering a large swath of topics, including funding, standards and assessments, accountability, school turnaround, and charter schools. Similarly, advocates in Connecticut are repurposing a candidate’s guide to education to provide an overview of education issues that legislators are likely to encounter.
Other advocates host legislators and policymakers at in-person events, which has the added benefit of all-important face-time. In Missouri, CEAM is hosting an annual policy panel to highlight other states’ work to transform their education systems while also providing insight on how legislation in Missouri could accomplish similar goals. Meanwhile, Idaho Business for Education recently organized a legislative academy. The event brought together legislators, business leaders, education leaders, and community members to discuss how Idaho can improve its education system.
Advocates also indirectly educate legislators through the generation of earned press and media. Expect More Arizona recently shared the results of their public opinion survey. For the last few years, these results have provided stakeholders with valuable insight into Arizona voters’ number one priority: education. The release also generates significant press as the legislature starts to set their priorities.
Similarly, for 15 years, the Georgia Partnership for Excellence in Education has produced a guide to the Top 10 Issues to Watch. The guide and accompanying media symposium allows GPEE to share their focus with media, policymakers, and the broader public.
Interested in connecting with any of the Network members mentioned above? Reach out. Members can also explore who else is prioritizing similar issues in 2019 by viewing the PIE Network 2019 Member Priorities.