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ASSOCIATION FOR CAREER & TECHNICAL EDUCATION®

Advocacy Toolkit

ACTE Congressional Recess Packet

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ACTE is pleased to provide this Congressional Recess Packet for CTE advocates to utilize when Members of Congress leave Washington to visit their states and districts. Legislators rely on their constituents' input to guide their work, so take this opportunity to participate in some advocacy activities to raise awareness of CTE with policymakers.


Crafting Your Message

It is important for CTE advocates to know the current issues being debated on Capitol Hill. By familiarizing yourself with these issues, you can craft a message that is timely, relevant and targeted. Use the CTE Policy Watch blog to find out about all of the latest congressional happenings. You can also visit the ACTE Policy Agenda page for more information on federal funding, current legislation and other CTE issues.

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Resources

Before you begin any advocacy activity, be sure to do your research and brush up on the current happenings in federal CTE policy. Here are some resources to utilize in your advocacy efforts.

  • CTE Policy Watch blog—The blog is updated regularly with the latest CTE policy news.
  • Targeting the Media page—A strong media campaign that utilizes newspapers, radio and television can reach a large numbers of people and policymakers with the CTE message.
  • Fact sheets and Issue Briefs—ACTE has many publications that highlight CTE’s role in a variety of important policy issues, including dropout recovery, STEM education, career guidance and economic competitiveness. 
  • CTE Action Center—Direct links to all Members of Congress, along with their contact information, can be found in the CTE Action Center. Click on action alerts for important CTE policy issues and send a message directly to your elected representatives.
  • Share Your CTE Story—Personal stories are a vital tool when discussing the impact of federal legislation on students, classrooms and teachers. ACTE will use your story in our efforts to advocate for CTE on Capitol Hill. 

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Meeting In Person

The best way to ensure your message gets heard is to schedule a one-on-one meeting with your senators or representative through their local district office. The following are a few tips on making the most out of your meeting.

  • Schedule your appointment in advance and be flexible. Call the district office as early as possible and have a few dates and times in mind.
  • Do your homework! Craft your message and do the research to support your points. Check out the CTE Policy Watch blog, ACTE's Policy Agenda page and the CTE Action Center to find the information you need.
  • Be prompt and provide relevant information. The legislator’s time is limited and you must make a local connection to keep the conversation relevant. No matter the topic of discussion, always bring it back to how the current practices are impacting the community and state, and how policy changes may effect your school and students. For example, if you are meeting with your senator to discuss CTE funding, you might talk about how the local school budget is shrinking and the need for federal funding to support and supplement CTE in your community. Let them know how important federal Perkins funds are to local CTE programs and give examples of how your CTE program has utilized Perkins funds. 
  • Be armed with research, information and handouts that are specific to your community. Support all of your talking points with recent and accurate information. If possible, speak to your school administration about providing local data and information that could be useful in making your case.
  • Listen to what your legislator has to say, and be prepared to answer their questions to the best of your ability. If you do not know the answer to a question, just tell them that you can follow up with that information later.
  • Follow up, follow up, follow up! Be sure to get contact information for your Member of Congress and their staff. After the meeting, send a "thank you" note and provide them with any written materials you discussed during the meeting.

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Social Media Advocacy

While traditional advocacy activities, such as face-to-face meetings and phone calls, are effective in promoting CTE with policymakers, it is also important to utilize technology as part of your strategy. ACTE has several social media networks that we use to build and maintain a coalition of CTE advocates. We encourage you to join these outlets to receive and share information about CTE.

Social media is a quick and effective advocacy tool that allows you to connect directly to policymakers. More information on using social media for advocacy is available on our Social Media and Advocacy page. Here are some sample tweets and Facebook posts that you can share with your legislators during this recess.

Sample Tweets:

  •  .@SenatorReid my #CareerTechEd students need Congress to invest in their education! It's time to increase funding for Perkins CTE!
  •  .@SpeakeBoehner funding for #CareerTechEd is critical to keeping our economy moving in the right direction! Build our investment in CTE!
  •  .@MitchMcConnell it is time for Congress to make funding #CareerTechEd a priority!

Sample Facebook Posts:

  • Funding for Perkins is critical in preparing youth and adults for 21st century careers. [Senator McConnell] it is time for Congress to make funding career and technical education (CTE) a top priority!
  • Federal support for career and technical education (CTE) has already been cut by over $100 million since 2010. [Speaker Boehner] we can't cut our way to a 21st century workforce. Increase Perkins CTE funding and help to make building our investment in CTE a top priority for Congress!
  • [Senator Reid] career and technical education (CTE) is vital to educating our nation's current and future workforce. Cuts in  Perkins CTE funding hurt high schools, tech centers, community colleges, employers and millions of CTE students nationwide. It is time for Congress to build our investment in CTE!

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Town Hall Meetings

Members of Congress typically host town hall meetings with constituents during congressional recesses. These meetings are generally open to the public and provide constituents with the opportunity to raise concerns, ask questions and openly share their views on policy issues. Here are a few pointers on advocating for CTE at a congressional town hall meeting.

  • Find out the date, time and place of the town hall meeting. You can find this information in your local newspaper, on your legislator's website or by calling their district office.
  • Do your homework. Your time to speak is very limited, so prepare in advance on the topic you want to discuss. For more information on current CTE policy issues, you can check out our CTE Policy Watch blog or the CTE Action Center.
  • Be precise and direct. When it is your turn to speak, step to the microphone and state your name and hometown. Then ask your question or state your position clearly. When asking a question, try to be as specific as possible. For example: “Federal funding to support career and technical education has been flat or in decline for years. What do you plan to do to help increase resources for education and workforce training programs in our community?”
  • Be polite and follow up. Even if the Member of Congress does not support your position, thank them for their time and follow up with a staff member after the meeting. A town hall meeting can be a good first step in building a relationship with your legislator.

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School Visits

A great way to showcase the value of CTE is by inviting your Members of Congress to see your program. Providing policymakers with the opportunity to get an up-close look at CTE in action can help to drive their perspective on CTE policy issues. Here are a few pointers to ensure a successful school visit.

  • Get permission. Before you begin any planning, get permission from your school administration. Be sure to keep students and parents informed throughout the process as well.
  • Determine goals and set an agenda. Determine before the visit what you want to accomplish. Be realistic with your goals and make sure your agenda helps to further those goals.
  • Invite your Member of Congress. Send an invitation via email or fax to your Member of Congress. For advanced scheduling, it is best to contact their Washington, DC office. If possible, be flexible with the date and time. If you do not receive a response within a week, call the office to follow up.
  • Invite media. Work with the legislator's  press staff, as well as your institution or district administration to put together a formal press release to the media. If you need pointers on putting together a release, please see ACTE’s Targeting the Media page.
  • Conduct the tour. Stick to your agenda and make sure that staff and students are aware of the visit. When possible, initiate conversations with the Member of Congress to ensure that your issues are communicated and understood.
  • Follow up. After the visit, follow up with your legislator and their staff to continue building a relationship. Send a "thank you" note and include any press coverage about the visit.

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Targeting the Media

Techniques Advert Events Partners Countdown A strong media campaign, using newspapers, radio and television can reach large numbers of people with the message about career and technical education (CTE) issues and events. First and foremost, a school, district or an educator should establish a cooperative relationship with reporters who routinely cover education in the community. When an education issue is reported in the media, offer yourself as an authoritative interview source (if appropriate). Building a relationship with the media is a gradual process. Do not get discouraged if your first few attempts are turned down. Once a relationship is established with a reporter, keep him or her well informed through frequent communications. In addition, invite them to witness the various programs at your school--not just special events, such as back-to-school night or CTE Week, but to observe an especially interesting lab or sit in on a faculty-business advisory group meeting. Below are some tools to help you prepare information for the media: What is News Where to Begin How to Develop a Media List News Releases Public Service Announcements (PSAs) Guidelines for Placing Op-Eds Letters to the Editor Working with Your Newspaper's Editorial Board   What is News? Reporters and editors are concerned with informing the public of events and issues that affect their media outlets’ target audiences. For something to have news value, it must, in the eyes of the news media, impact the general community. If it is important to the public, it is important to the media. Education issues are of natural interest to local media. The essential elements of news value are timeliness, local appeal, and interesting subject matter. Ask yourself these questions about your subject matter: What is the significance of your school’s services or special events to the general public?   Is the information timely?   When education news breaks, is there an angle related to your school or to the profession in general? Are you an expert in that area?   How does your expertise, special event, or unique service help the community?   Are trends in society reflected in your school?   There are several kinds of coverage: News—usually noting conflict or change; Features—usually stories of human interest or news that is not time sensitive; Editorials—usually coverage by the media that takes a stand on an issue of relevance to the general public or to a particular constituency; and Op-Eds—also opinion oriented, but generated by individual experts, pundits or opinion makers.   Where to Begin Get started by reading the publications that you would like to see cover your issues, by watching and listening to news broadcasts, and by becoming familiar with the reporters covering education issues. After doing this, you will easily be able to develop a list of media targets. Cut the job down to your size. If you have only one day a month to work on your public relations program, you need to set your sights for a small-scale result. If your stories are local, concentrate only on local media. If your story warrants regional, state or national coverage, be prepared to give your campaign quite a bit more time. How to Develop a Media List If you are concentrating your public relations program in a small local area, you should be able to develop a media list by calling or visiting the Web sites of the newspapers, television and radio stations in the community and inquiring about the reporters who cover the education “beat.” If you are initiating a regional or national media campaign, you should consult a media directory, which can be found on ACTE Legislative Action Center or by visiting the Media Research Center (leaving ACTE's website). You can also use the Internet to search for your local newspaper’s Web site. Many libraries also have local media directories. Sometimes local organizations, such as the chamber of commerce or the convention bureau may have developed a media directory. You can find out if your area has one by calling a local public relations firm and asking them to recommend one. Whether you use a national directory or a local one, you will have to check all contact names before sending information or making a call to pitch a story. Editors and reporters change “beats” frequently, and a news release sent to the wrong reporter usually ends up in the trash. Simply call the media outlet and ask who is covering your issue area. For schools, the typical issue area is education, but your issue could apply to the metro or business sections. Remember that there are many more news outlets at your disposal than you might think. Do not overlook these important sources: Television stations have local news programs, editorial opinions and “talk back” opportunities, public affairs programs, one-on-one interview shows, and public affairs “specials.”   Community cable stations can offer local news programming, community access channels, and public affairs programming.   Public television stations provide local news as well as a diverse mix of locally produced public affairs programming.   Radio formats include all-news stations, radio talk shows, public affairs programming, and editorial comment.   Newspapers have numerous “beat” reporters covering specialized issues for the main news section, editorial page editors, op-ed opinion pieces, letters to the editor, the business section, consumer reporters, and “style” sections offering soft news.   News Releases A news release is an up-to-the-minute summary of the importance of your news. Include who, what, when, and details of why and how. Be sure to type it on your school’s or organization’s letterhead, or provide your professional contact information. If possible, include sharp black-and-white photos of students preparing for a special event that you have planned. Be sure to attach a separate sheet for each photo, identifying the students and explaining what they are doing. Contact your local paper and ask how they prefer to receive a news release and, according to their direction, either mail, e-mail, fax or hand deliver the news release. Don’t forget your own school newspaper and other special publications. Often when your news is not pressing or significant enough to warrant a news conference or media briefing, you should still send out a news release. Keep in mind, however, that the newsrooms of America are inundated with news releases. The average editor may receive several hundred news releases in a typical week. Although no precise data has been collected, general opinion and observation indicate that only 10 to 20 percent of news releases submitted to the media are used in some way. If the news release is to survive as a conveyer of information, it must be issued with discretion—only if the information is really news. Your news release must be written as skillfully as possible and directed to the appropriate person. Sample News Release  Sample Media Alert  Public Service Announcements (PSAs) PSAs are brief messages that provide helpful information to the public, solicit support for a particular cause, and/or offer an organization’s free services. Unlike paid advertising, PSAs are carried free of charge by publications, radio and television stations in an effort to educate an audience and to encourage people to do something such as participate, call, write or contribute. Before attempting to place a PSA, determine whom you want to reach with your message. Then identify the publications and stations in your area that service that particular audience. Once you have determined the media outlets you want to target, contact the head of either the community development or public service department to find out the proper procedures for submitting PSAs. Sample PSA  Guidelines for Placing Op-Eds Many newspapers provide a forum for opinions opposite the editorial page (“Op-Ed”) that address issues of concern to your community. Pitch letters can be effective tools to propose an op-ed column to a national publication. When your local education association or school is involved with and has a point to make on a major, newsworthy issue (such as trends in career and technical education), the op-ed page provides you with the chance to illustrate the value of the profession. Papers will occasionally publish a philosophical piece that may comment on a continuing problem, such as funding for education or an observation on society. If you are planning to submit your op-ed to a national publication, such as the Washington Post, send a pitch letter first to a handful of editors with the op-ed outline and then follow-up with a call. However, keep calls to the editor at a minimum and do not call during the end of the day when they are on deadline In a pitch letter, you should indicate the subject matter and proposed author. Although you could simply send out the op-ed piece to all the editors on your media list with a pitch letter, it is better to approach them first so you can tailor the piece to a specific publication’s needs. Sample Op-Ed Here are five general steps to follow when preparing an op-ed: Find opportunities - Review all publications in your region to determine which accept op-eds and which formats are preferred. Are they generally about current social issues? Are they in a pro/con format?   Decide on a topic - In general, try to relate your topic to a current issue. Samples include the role of the educator in the school system and the reasons why career and technical education has to be an important part of the education and economic development agenda.   Approach editors - If you are planning to send your op-ed to a national paper send a pitch letter to appropriate editors outlining the proposed topic and author. If you have established a relationship with a particular editor, make a call instead of writing. If you are sending your op-ed to a local paper go ahead and prepare a draft to send. Keep in mind that the person whose name appears on the op-ed need not be the person who wrote it. The byline should be that of a person prominent in your organization, community, or with a recognized expertise or specialty.   Prepare a draft - Determine what your paper’s guidelines are for submitting an op-ed. Your paper may have a specific format in which you have to send it in order to be considered, (e.g. length, double spaced, etc.). Op-eds can run between 350-800 words depending upon the paper. If you are preparing an op-ed for your local paper, be sure to localize your op-ed with statistics and examples of your point within your community. The byline should include the author’s current professional position. In addition, be certain to identify the author as an educator, if appropriate.   Submit a draft - Adhere to deadlines. If you promise an editor you will have a draft by a certain date, do so. A cover letter or a short paragraph at the end of your op-ed should be used to tell the editor exactly who you are and why you are qualified to write this op-ed. Be sure to include your full name, title, address, e-mail and phone number so that you can be contacted. Remember, an interest in reviewing an op-ed does not necessarily mean the publication will use the piece, even if it is particularly well written. You may have to adapt the op-ed to the editor’s wishes or to provide backup for points you make in the piece. If the editor ultimately declines the piece, try reworking it and begin the entire process again. Persistence is the key. Keep in mind that some large newspapers may ask that an op-ed piece be on an exclusive basis, meaning no other publication can simultaneously print the piece. Smaller papers generally accept multiple submissions, as long as competing papers in the same city do not run the same pieces. Check each publication’s particular policy. Also, remember that a letter to the editor is always a great way to promote the value of career and technical education programs.   Letters to the Editor This newspaper section is an excellent vehicle for you to express your views on the value of career and technical education to policymakers and to educate people in the community. You may also use a letter to the editor to correct inaccurate facts, promote your issue or to praise/condemn a recent article. Write persuasively; include local statistics and personal stories to make your point. It is important to find the newspaper’s policy for printing the letters. Most newspapers require that letters be no more than one page. Sample Letter to the Editor (Responding to an article) Sample Letter to the Editor (Concerning ACTE position statement on high school reform)   Working With Your Newspaper’s Editorial Board In other sections of the toolkit, you have read about what appears on the editorial pages of most daily newspapers, for example op-eds and letters to the editor. Here, you will learn who decides what goes on these pages and how you can influence them to consider writing about your issue. Every daily newspaper has an editorial board that determines which opinions are expressed in its editorial pages. This board meets regularly to consider topics and opinions for editorials. As a member of the community you may request to meet with the editorial board. Who you will be meeting with depends upon the size of the newspaper. Typically the editorial board consists of the editorial page editor(s) and editorial page writers. Some large papers may have several editors and numerous reporters in attendance, while smaller local papers may not even have an editorial board. If that is the case, you may request a meeting with the editor, who may bring along a reporter. To schedule a meeting with the editorial board, call or email the newspaper’s editorial department expressing your interest in scheduling an editorial board meeting and ask them for the appropriate person to contact. Remember timing is everything. Be sure to call at least a week in advance as the editorial calendar tends to fill up quickly. Also, it is important that your pitch for an editorial is timely and relates to current events. Once you find the correct person he or she may ask you to send a letter explaining why you would like to schedule a meeting, outlining your issue and how it impacts the community. Just as if you were pitching a story to a reporter, keep your letter concise and to the point. Don’t overwhelm them with information. If they accept your request for a meeting you will have an opportunity to present additional information during that time. Once you have confirmed a meeting day and time with the editorial board, you need to be sure you are prepared. In planning for your meeting you will need to decide who from your organization will attend. You may want to bring the president or CEO of your organization, someone from within the community who is directly affected by the issue, someone knowledgeable about the legislation surrounding the issue, and a communications professional. Everyone in attendance should be an expert on the issue and prepared to answer any questions asked by the editorial board. During the meeting you will be asked to present to the editorial board information on your issue and why they should provide it editorial coverage. Prepare about 15-20 minutes on your issue and the rest of the time will be slotted for a question and answer session. Be sure to bring along a kit of information for each person on the editorial board. Include facts sheets, charts, and/or any articles about your issue that ran in another publication. After the meeting, be sure to follow up with the editorial board by sending a thank you note. Sample Pitch Letter to the Editorial Board 

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