Board members as political and community advocates

Advocacy is simply communicating on behalf of public education with policy makers who appropriate resources that affect district operations. Informing and persuading in favor of positions that benefit public education, lifelong learning, excellence and equity is an important responsibility of district and board leadership.

Having succeeded in the political process, board members are elected officials with supporters and name recognition. As such, a board member is regarded as a person with clout and afforded opportunities to meet with other public officials because of the respect granted the position. Conversely, other elected representatives look to board members as a source of information about the school system.  

Board members have the opportunity to enlighten and persuade lawmakers to see the board’s point of view for the benefit of the school district.

What specific questions can the board use to reflect on its advocacy practices what are recommended action steps that could start a board member on the path of effective advocacy? How does advocacy impact student achievement?  Begin with the Advocacy Sketch Video which sets the stage for learning.

Advocacy strengthens and supports student achievement

Because education policy affects students and schools through funding, accountability, academic standards and other regulations, the student achievement benefit of this effort is clear. Advocating for strong policies at the state and local level, electing education champions who will keep students at the center of their policy priorities and following through to ensure new policies are effectively implemented shapes the conditions of our children’s and our communities’ futures. The link between quality public education and the economic and social health of a community is undisputed. Further, board members and district leaders are well aware that legislative mandates have the potential to take necessary resources away from local student advancement goals. In such situations, the board must decide how to reallocate scarce resources to meet the mandates, diverting support from district priorities. 

Experts argue that these policies are often developed without enough input from educators and district leadership and without full consideration of their impact on student learning. However, through their advocacy efforts, board members can influence and inform the legislature to keep the focus on student achievement. 

Effective advocacy

School boards are unique because their mission is solely devoted to student learning. Educating local politicians about financial needs is easier if those needs are clearly aligned to student achievement needs. Effective advocacy requires board members to first determine exactly what resources are needed to achieve desired outcomes.  It is essential that advocates understand the matter at hand and possess the ability to discuss the issue in terms of   

  • its effect on the community
  • what it means to the local school district and students
  • the cost of not doing anything regarding the issue
  • possible actions to take
  • possible consequences of these actions
  • who else in the community cares about the issue

In seeking legislators’ support of public education, locally elected school board members can make a difference that others in the community cannot. School boards have a responsibility to foster understanding and support of public education, lead the public in demanding a strong educational system and help establish a climate for change when change is necessary.  

To this end, board members must be outspoken. Over the years, state and federal mandates have increasingly eroded the authority of local officials to make decisions on behalf of their schools. It is imperative that board members capitalize on their influence as public officials and become unreserved advocates for their districts and their students.2 District leaders should develop a firm understanding of the local media and use it effectively while accepting the fact that local policy-making increases board member accountability and there will always be opponents who disagree with or do not appreciate the advocacy. It is important to respect and value all points of view.  Unreserved and outspoken does not mean unprofessional and closed-minded.  

Finally, effective advocacy requires mobilizing public support. Even a prominent district leader will need backing from the community in order to gain momentum and make a real impact. More supporters create a stronger voice and a stronger voice is more likely to increase funding, change laws and demand resources that have the potential to improve students’ futures.3 Community stakeholders such as parents, religious leaders, senior citizens, health professionals, business people, realtors and law enforcement officials are also affected by education policy and may become allies supporting the district's cause. 

For more information on public school advocacy please contact Jennifer Hogue, director of legislative services at jhogue@ohioschoolboards.org or Kim Miller-Smith, senior student achievement consultant at kmillersmith@ohioschoolboards.org or call 614-540-4000.

Resources

Reports:

OSBA Effective Advocacy for Leaders

ASCD Advocacy Guide

Community Engagement and Political Advocacy Hanover Research

Podcast:

Public School Advocacy 

The Resources linked above and "File Attachments" located on the right side of this page are outstanding public school advocacy resources used with the permission of the authoring organizations. "Links," as noted under the Resources section of the page, are additional media resources, OSBA services and publications that support district advocacy efforts.  

References

1  Effective Legislative Advocacy: A Toolkit for School Board Members. (2013). Manuscript, Wisconsin Association of School Boards.

2  The Key Work of School Boards: Guidebook. (2015). Alexandria, VA: National School Boards Assoc.

3  Advocacy Guide (Rep.). (2008). Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development