Engaging Communities in Campaign Planning
December 2, 2016

While the dust continues to settle on the election results and advocates, parents, educators, thought leaders, and analysts speculate as to what President-Elect Trump, Betsy DeVos, Congress, and new state leaders and legislatures will or won’t do when it comes to education, there is one thing on which we don’t have to speculate at all. In 2017 and the coming years, the role of state education advocates will remain critical—and perhaps even grow more important—as will the need to work across ideological differences to find policy solutions for students. Of course, advocates across the country knew this long before Election Day, and have been busy engaging communities, building coalitions, and crafting campaign goals for the 2017 state legislative sessions.

Below, we share how a few organizations have been planning their 2017 advocacy campaigns in support of students, families, and educators in their communities.

Texas Aspires Travels the State to Identify 2017 Priorities

Newly launched Texas Aspires conducted a statewide “Back to School” tour in fall 2016. In addition to introducing themselves and the organization to parents, teachers, educator groups, policymakers, district and university administrators, and business leaders in 14 cities across the state, the Texas Aspires team also used the tour as an opportunity to hear from Texans what issues they wanted the new organization to pursue in 2017. Through this tour, Texas Aspires identified five themes to advance in the 2017 legislative session: teacher quality, life skills, innovation, local control, and school finance. “As you can imagine, Texas is a large and diverse state,” explains Executive Director Courtney Boswell. “While the reform movement in Texas has been previously focused primarily on the urban population centers and moving the largest number of students closer to college and career readiness, our solutions have not always addressed the specific needs of rural communities. Our statewide tour was a great opportunity for us to gather information on those needs, enabling our team to be more effective advocates for all Texas students.”

Educators for Excellence-New York Surveys Members for Multi-Year Campaign

In response to member input, E4E-New York has embarked on a multi-year advocacy campaign to improve the climate in schools and create safe, supportive schools for all students. Through surveying their teacher members, it became clear that teachers wanted to tackle the challenge of a punitive system that disproportionately affects students of color. Therefore, in spring 2015, E4E-New York launched a Teacher Policy Team, which developed a series of recommendations that would provide support to schools, teachers, and students and create transparency and accountability. They then mobilized more than 1,000 members to petition the mayor to prioritize these issues, and were proud to have two members of the Policy Team join the Mayor’s Leadership Team on School Climate and Discipline. Many of the policies the Leadership Team adopted were aligned with E4E-New York teachers’ recommendations to reduce suspensions and create more supportive environments. But the work didn’t stop there: At E4E-New York’s summer 2016 Summit, teachers chose to continue working on this issue, specifically to expand restorative justice training at schools across the city. The E4E-New York team is now working with their members to plan continued advocacy on school climate during the 2017 legislative session.

Parents Help Lead Children’s Education Alliance of Missouri Campaigns

The power of CEAM comes from engaging parents during campaign planning and execution. Throughout the year, CEAM holds 1-on-1 meetings with parents to get a sense of their priorities, help them prepare testimony, and conduct individual communications trainings. In 2016, these conversations–along with consideration of CEAM’s policy areas and what seems feasible at the state capitol–have helped CEAM identify statewide charter school expansion as a key legislative issue it will focus on in 2017 in order to support families’ right to choose. By engaging parents in an ongoing way, both in the brainstorming and execution of campaigns, CEAM builds up a parent constituency base for its long-term work and puts a personal face on the impact of education policy for legislators and other decision-makers. Each December, the organization also hosts a panel with state policy experts who give their insights on the upcoming legislative session that begins in January. During session, CEAM mobilizes parents through calls-to-action and facilitates communication and media training sessions for parents to equip them for action, such as monthly visits to the state capitol, during which small groups of parents meet face-to-face with legislators. When session ends each year, the cycle of parent engagement continues: CEAM hosts a volunteer appreciation event to honor parents and other volunteers, hosts and attends recruitment events to build up its base of engaged parents, and coordinates in-district meetings between legislators and parents.

Know of other unique or multi-pronged approaches to campaign-planning? Let us know!

    Sarah Grunewald

    Sarah is PIE Network's Deputy Executive Director, Program Strategy

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