Why It's Important to Become an Advocate
Many of the most important decisions affecting the education of our children are made outside of our communities. In Madison, legislators across the state - from urban centers and from rural areas - have considerable control over issues critical to local schools. Sometimes the issue is about dollars. Sometimes it's about strategies. But it's always about our children.
SWSA members have become key partners with our legislators by establishing and nurturing strong relationships and working together to develop good education policy. Many other special interest groups are tugging at the sleeves of our legislators, but SWSA has become a relevant “go to” organization that our legislators rely upon to get sound, honest feedback on key issues.
Our organization exists to advocate on behalf of Wisconsin’s children by convening the right partners and facilitating conversations to support good education policy.
How Can Parents and Other Voters Make a Difference in the Legislature?
Parents and other citizens have two powerful levels of influence when it comes to lobbying legislators.
First, you have vital information that legislators need. Second, you have the ultimate power to hold them accountable when you vote in legislative elections.
The days of smoke-filled rooms & expense-account meals are over.
Lobbying has changed. Wisconsin’s tough ethics law prevents lobbyists from buying meals, a cup of coffee or anything else for legislators. Today information is what counts.
You are an expert on K-12 education.
Parents and other citizens familiar with their local schools can be as credible a source of information as paid lobbyists. Although talking to legislators can seem intimidating, they know that they need the information that only you have. They want to hear your stories about real students in real classrooms.
You can help legislators understand the real-world impact of their votes.
Legislators follow many issues that complicate and affect K-12 education. They are constantly bombarded with facts, figures, reports and budgets that don’t necessarily give them a clear picture. Your story puts a human face on K-12 funding formulas and policies. We all know that a simple story is often far more powerful than a complex official report.
How do you get started?
Effective lobbying has three essential steps:
Build Relationships at the Local Level
You will have the most credibility and clout with your local legislators, the people who specifically represent you. As with any human interaction, a good working relationship will help. Introduce yourself to your senator or representative at the grocery store, a soccer game or a school board meeting - and reintroduce yourself at every opportunity. Don't hesitate to start with a telephone call or an e-mail message.
Get Informed and Stay That Way
You already know a lot about your local school. You have a story to tell. Take time to acquire a basic understanding of the legislative process, how schools are funded and your school district’s budget situation. Your local school officials are the best source of information on your district’s budget and issues. Attend school board meetings or read meeting minutes.
Take Some Action
Communicate with your legislators by telephone, e-mail, fax, letter and in person. Let them know that public education should be the Legislature’s top priority. Share a story about your child’s school. Although communicating about the painful reality of budget cuts is vital, don’t forget to talk about the success stories, too. Discuss your concerns with your friends and neighbors. Encourage others to get involved. Every voice counts.