When school board members sit down with their members of Congress, they often find themselves frustrated by the brief, often controlled, content of the chats. That’s why a trio of NSBA advocacy team members offered a Saturday clinic at NSBA’s annual conference on getting the most out of such meetings, and on sustaining ongoing relationships.
Reginald Felton, assistant executive director for congressional relations, offered a primary on how Congress works – slowly – in part because K-12 issues are tied to what he called “the public education triad” — politics, business, and academics.
“Clearly, the politics of education is there. The academics are to ensure (that) our students are learning and becoming career and college ready,” Felton said. “And there is the business because of the cost. We all know we are being challenged to have sufficient resources.
“Board members who think they only want to work on one part of the triad are often disappointed. The whole issue is that there is a political piece, an academic piece, and a business piece,” he said.
“Our concern is not that we don’t believe that school board members are active; we know you are. If you can have the relationship so they know you, and you’ve built that relationship when there isn’t a crisis, they are more likely to respond,” Felton said.
Kathleen Branch, director of NSBA’s National Advocacy Services, said the national association has a host of resources to help board members in lobbying and meeting with members of Congress.
“You have enough to do in your daily job as board members. We understand that. When you raise your hand and say, ‘I want to advocate as the national level,’ you are not on your own,” she said.
Part of the session involved viewing of a 27-minute NSBA-produced video entitled, “How to Lobby Members of Congress.” The video covers such pointers as:
• Never assume members of Congress know who you are and who you represent
• Look at their past voting record (NSBA has the information)
• Be passionate about issues but be respectful
• Focus on your voice as coming from a community in the Congressman’s district
• Talk about the local impact
• Follow up on the meeting; invite the Congressman to local district events.
Deborah Rigsby, NSBA’s director of federal legislation, echoed the messages on the video.
“Face-to-face time is important,” Rigsby said, “and it does influence votes.”
Rigsby also encouraged board members to connect with staff in their members of Congress district and Washington, D.C., office, citing an example of one district whose leaders get regular contacts by its Congressman’s staff when education issues are raised.
The NSBA team encouraged board members to get involved in the annual Federal Relations Network (FRN) conference each January.