Advocate for Education

The 4th of July is a day of fireworks, family, and of course, hotdogs and hamburgers. More importantly, it’s a day to reflect on our freedom and rights as American citizens. Our voice matters, on a local, state, and federal level. And our voice can lead to change through legislative advocacy.

Legislative advocacy for Education means supporting and speaking up for children—in schools, in communities, and before government bodies and other organizations that make decisions affecting children. Advocacy’s meaning is broad. For one example, Eastern Ohio Education Partnership has engaged in advocacy through data-driven reports. EOEP recently partnered with Policy Matters Ohio to report findings and recommend changes to provide access to quality preschools for everyone in the Valley.

Legislative advocacy can be done at an organizational level, such as by EOEP, or on an individual level. All individuals, including students, parents, and teachers, can take simple steps to advocate for education in their region.

On an individual level, a solid first step is to attend a school board meeting or even serve on the school board. That way, community members can understand first-hand the key issues faced by schools. Once an understanding of these issues is reached, individuals could offer recommendations to the schools. For example, individuals could work closely with schools to implement strong family engagement programs, such as parent workshops that address the significance of reading at home. Attending school board meetings is another excellent way to network with key players in a district.

Community members may also schedule a meeting separately with school leaders to discuss concerns or topics of importance to the district. Students in middle or high school can run for student government, or contact student government leaders to discuss ideas. Student government associations at a university are usually given a budget to help fund student organizations. College students could join student government or lobby funds from one of their student organizations.

Local school funding plays a critical role in the education decision-making process. While the state and federal government finance part of public school district budgets, the largest share often comes from local sources, such as property taxes, in the form of tax levies. School districts may place a levy on the ballot and, if approved by a majority of voters, the county then charges and collects the tax over a specific period of time for a variety of school uses, including debt service, operating expenses, ongoing or special improvements, as well as recreational, library, technology, or even community center purposes. Working directly with your local school board and specific levy committees are the best way to learn more about and influence the direction of these complex local school funding opportunities.

Oftentimes, local funding is also impacted by the state and federal government. Enter your zip code at the Ohio Legislature 132nd General Assembly web page to identify your Ohio House and Senate members, visit Ohio.GOV to find contact information for other State of Ohio elected officials, and engage with the State Board of Education online. To reach your federal Congressional representatives, enter your home address at GovTrack.US, and then share your opinions with the U.S. Department of Education.

In advocacy, there is power in numbers through grassroots organizing. Joining a local advocacy group allows one voice to join many on an issue. Together, individuals could organize events, distribute literature, and call representatives en masse about an issue. When it comes to writing, introducing, and passing bills, as well as securing funding, the more constituent support, the better.

A community member could also write a letter to the editor of a local newspaper, and have other parents and/or advocates sign it. Newspaper’s have far-reaching audiences in the community, and are viewed as legitimate sources of information. Because of this, letters to the editor are powerful messages.

Lastly, individuals shouldn’t be afraid to post about important issues via social media. Family and friends may just be swayed to join the efforts, or vote in a way that benefits education.

Whenever advocating for an issue, keep these following tips in mind:

  • Keep track of key bills that will affect education in your region.
  • Know the names of your representatives, as well as their voting positions.
  • Know issues inside and out. Be prepared to summarize positions.
  • Know the opposing argument.
  • Fact-check the sources of news articles. Make sure all information is credible.
  • Don’t guess at or exaggerate fact. An individual doesn’t have to be an expert, but they do have to be honest.

A key pattern in successful legislative advocacy is a clear understanding of the issue, open and active community engagement and education, and strength in numbers. Without one of these three components, advocacy falls flat. A single person who can argue their point well won’t be able to sway legislators. However, a group of thousands of people who present a clear argument can. For more information, see Community Tool Box’s General Rules for Organizing for Legislative Advocacy.

An incredible success story comes from Massachusetts. An adult education advocacy group – Massachusetts Coalition for Adult Education (MCAE) – drafted a bill upholding the state’s duty to educate all of its citizens, no matter their age. The MCAE located legislators to sponsor it, and through a joint effort it was passed as a part of an education reform bill. Because of this, state funding for adult literacy education increased greatly, allowing crucial programs to be implemented. More adults are now learning how to read, who wouldn’t have had the opportunity a decade ago. This concrete element marks true success in advocacy. However, with advocacy, a job is never “finished.” MCAE continues to lobby for continual funding for this program. Many other advocacy groups remain attentive to new bills and programs that could help or hurt their mission.

No doubt, legislative advocacy is crucial to support education on all levels. It’s up to us to speak up.

Written by Georgia Kasamias, Eastern Ohio Education Partnership Communications Intern and senior at Youngstown State University.