All policymakers want and need to hear from constituents who are impacted by their decisions. Public officials must consider a vast number of issues, many of which they have no prior experience with. Depending on the political level and resources available, these issues could be divided among many—or just a few—staff members that are responsible for following all activity and constituent support for each of their assigned issues. Staff members rely on a multitude of resources to keep them knowledgeable, including groups like ACTE and experts like you.
At the federal level, each Member of Congress has a group of legislative-focused staff who assist the Member in understanding and considering why or how to support a particular policy. They can also serve as subject matter experts and represent the Member at events, among other responsibilities. A staff member in a federal policymaker’s office may be responsible for covering the entire policy portfolio of 3-5 broad issue areas, such as “education” or “transportation.” Long story short, they are very busy and have a lot of demands on their time!
State lawmakers are not typically provided with a large budget to hire staffers, and sometimes local policymakers only have one staff person—or in smaller areas, none at all! A staff member in a state or local policymaker’s office may cover 20 or more broad issues and is seldom an expert in all of them, but you can serve as a great resource to them. As a CTE professional, you are “on-the-ground,” and know what is happening with CTE in your school, community or region. They lean on you to be their eyes and ears.
You must be proactive and offer to serve as a resource to policymakers and their staff. You are in an excellent position to provide them with information about your programs and how these programs affect your community. If you can develop a working relationship with the official and his or her staff, they will look to you more often and ask for your input as issues come forward. By establishing yourself as a reliable source of information, you are improving your access to the policymaker. Below are some general guidelines to help you develop good relationships with your federal, state and local officials. It is much easier to share your perspective with a policymaker’s office that you already have a relationship with!
Action Center Resources
ACTE has an Action Center tool that is a great resource to help you start building relationships with your policymakers. It is a one-stop-shop to finding the information you need to send messages to your policymakers, take action on the pressing issues and legislation impacting CTE, find your Members of Congress and locate media professionals to conduct media outreach. Here are some tips to help you get the most out of the Action Center:
- Home: Once you have navigated to the Action Center, you will see “Our Issues,” which are the Action Alerts that the ACTE Public Policy department sends out to our members via email and are also posted on the CTE Policy Watch Blog. Each topic has a blue button marked “TAKE ACTION” that will prompt you to enter your name and address in the provided fields so that the Action Center can determine your representatives and send your letter to them. The letter that is loaded into the Action Center for you to send is customizable – fill in any additional information that you want your policymakers to know about CTE!
- Directory: This tool can also help you find your representatives, their contact information and office locations, and biographical information that can help you tailor your outreach.
- Bills: A list of bills that ACTE supports and their status in Congress is provided here.
- Votes: A list of votes that ACTE is monitoring, as well as the status of the legislation is available here.
- Elections: Find information about voting and absentee ballots here.
- Media: You can use this tool to find contact information for members of your local media.
ACTE will direct you to the Action Center for pertinent information ever time we send out a legislative alert, but you can also use it any time you would like to contact or learn more about your policymakers and local media!
General Communication Guidelines
Successful teachers and administrators are typically good communicators. This is an important skill in dealing with students as well as influencing policymakers. There are many options available for communicating with policymakers: letters, telephone calls, visits held virtually or in-person, email and social media.
There are a few easy ways to begin building a relationship with your policymakers: send them an email that expresses your thoughts on a CTE-related issue and brings your expertise as a CTE advocate to the forefront; follow and interact with them on social media; call their office and express your thoughts on CTE-related policy directly; request a meeting or their attendance at any event; attend a town hall or other event where the policymaker is in attendance. However you decide to contact your policymaker, remember that building a relationship with them will take time, persistent communication and politeness! Whether you write, call or visit your policymakers, some basic guidelines are applicable to all methods of contact:
- Know your officials.
Learn as much as possible about your federal, state and local officials and where they stand on issues. How have they voted in the past? What is their political philosophy? Officials who support your position can help you develop your strategy; those who “don’t know” need more of your attention; and those who are opposed can sometimes be persuaded to change their minds. Never assume you know what your official thinks – find out! Usually, there is a copy of their biography and information about their positions on their web sites. To find contact and biographical information for your Member of Congress, please visit ACTE’s Action Center.
- Identify yourself.
Identify yourself as a constituent by providing your address, location of your school, and if contacting federal policymakers, your congressional district. Identify yourself as a CTE professional or businessperson and give your area of expertise. In addition, identify yourself as a member of ACTE or your state or local group or organization. This will further enhance your credibility and effectiveness by linking you to a broader advocacy effort.
- Be prepared.
Know your issue. Know the legislation or program you support and the impact it will have on your school, organization or local community, and, if appropriate, on the nation. Know and use statistics and facts whenever possible. In this age of accountability, numbers matter! Keep abreast of issues through ACTE information resources and contact us if you have any questions. Contact your state association for state-level advocacy assistance.
- Be specific.
Be specific and state the action you want the policymaker to take, such as: vote in a certain manner, introduce legislation, or co-sponsor a bill or make a floor statement. If the policymaker expresses support for your position, hold him or her to that commitment. Whenever possible, refer to a specific piece of legislation by its number.
- Be concise.
Be concise in your written or verbal communications. Public officials and their staff have limited time to devote to any one issue. A one- or two-page fact sheet can summarize your points and is more likely to be read and filed for future reference than a 10-page document. In face-to-face meetings, highlight key issues and leave behind a fact sheet as a reminder of essential points you want the official to have on hand.
- Be constructive.
Be pleasant, polite and use a “soft-sell” approach even if a policymaker does not agree to support you in a specific instance. If there are problems with a particular program or bill, admit it and identify alternative solutions. Do not threaten or make negative comments. You are looking for a continuing relationship and will probably need the official’s support on other issues in the future. In the meantime, feel confident that you have shared your information in a positive manner.
- Follow up.
After you have met with your policymaker or they have taken an action you support, send a thank you note. Be sure to note whom you spoke with, what you learned from your meeting, what the next steps are – if any, and your appreciation for their time and attention; and offer your assistance and expertise in the future. If those you met with had questions that you could not answer during the meeting, make sure to follow up with the answers they need. Follow legislation and other issues affecting CTE throughout the legislative and implementation processes and be prepared to contact your policymakers several times on one issue. Provide additional, helpful details when communicating with your contacts. (ACTE can help you stay informed and up-to-date on current or potential policies that impact CTE. Please visit our policy page.
- Continue the connection.
It is important to continue developing ties with your policymakers and their staff. In addition to contacting them about specific legislation or issues, also:
- Congratulate them on honors received or elections won, thank them for a positive vote on your issue or on actions taken that are important to the community, and share positive information about your program and your students.
- Public officials appreciate, but seldom receive, thank you letters or letters to the editor celebrating them for actions taken. Be among those who show appreciation for their support, and you will be remembered!
- Sharing news articles or research studies on your program with your officials are ideal ways to publicize your program and highlight the impact it has made on local constituents. This is an easy way to promote your program and continue developing rapport with policymakers. You are also giving them information they can use to justify their support of your program.
- Update ACTE.
Be sure to share information regarding contacts with your federal policymakers with the ACTE Public Policy staff. It is especially important for Association staff to hear about your legislators’ support or opposition to positions, willingness to co-sponsor legislation, or other issues. Fill out a Hill report form, contact us at: 800-826-9972, or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.