Guide to Engaging Freshman Members of Congress
Every two years, a new crop of federal policymakers enter Congress for the beginning of the next congressional session. ACTE has developed this resource to help you effectively develop relationships with new Members of Congress and urge them to support policies that will help advance high-quality CTE for all learners. The start of the 118th Congress presents the perfect opportunity to inform them about CTE and encourage their support!
To be an effective advocate, you must be proactive in your outreach. One of the most important things you can do is to 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 new Member and his or her staff, they will look to you more often and ask for your input as issues come forward.
New Members of Congress in the 118th Congress
As the 118th Congress organizes, visit congress.gov to learn about your representatives. To help you identify new Members of Congress that are priority contacts due to their previous experiences, ACTE has drafted two blog posts that outline new Senators and new House members with education and workforce backgrounds. For a complete list of new Members of Congress, visit the link here.
First steps for freshmen members of Congress:
At the beginning of a new Congress, Members-elect will be sworn in on the first day of the new session, which typically occurs on the first day of January after the New Year holiday. This year, the swearing in was delayed in the House due to the election for speaker, but all new Members have now been seated. These freshman Members will be assigned to serve on at least two committees and may join any caucuses they are interested in. Many freshmen will also take on leadership roles within their parties, and freshmen “class representatives” will be elected to serve as a liaison to party leadership.
Then, they begin the process of opening an office and hiring staff. It can take a few weeks to a couple months for the office to be fully operational. 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. Staffers handling the education and workforce portfolios are most important for CTE advocates to connect with. Throughout this process of establishing their offices, legislators will also be developing their top legislative priorities and learning more about issues impacting their constituents. Take advantage of this time to educate them about the benefits of CTE!
Ways to get to know freshmen members:
- Research their campaign priorities, state voting records and relevant activities as a private citizen, if applicable. These past actions often serve as a window into the legislator’s thinking about an issue, and provide advocates with important information as you craft your advocacy pitches.
- Attend in-person events, such as town halls and community meetings. If you get the opportunity, ask your representative about their understanding and support of CTE.
- Examine their social media presence – both campaign and their official government social media accounts – and take note of any information they have shared about education and workforce issues.
- Contact your policymaker’s new office through one of the methods described below. Remember that building a relationship with them will take time, persistent communication and politeness!
Scheduling meetings with your new representative:
It is especially important to schedule meetings with your freshmen Members of Congress to show your interest in advocacy and serving as a resource to them, and to let them know that you are closely monitoring their votes, public statements and legislative agendas as they begin their careers in public office.
As discussed earlier, it may take several weeks or even several months for the new lawmakers to staff their offices and have a dedicated staff person to handle education and workforce issues, but you can still reach out early by phoning the office periodically to determine if these staffers are in place yet. If they aren’t, it is still helpful to talk to or meet with a member of the official’s staff – perhaps someone in the district or state office. As more staff come on board, you can eventually meet with the staffer handling education and workforce portfolios.
One of the first tasks for the new members will be to set up their official websites – typically, they include a link to request a meeting with the member, and you can complete a form that will provide the member’s staff with the information from your meeting request. If there isn’t an available webform to use to schedule a meeting, you can reach out to staff via email or make a phone call directly to the office. Alternatively, you can reach out to ACTE Media Relations and Advocacy Associate Jori Houck (email@example.com) for assistance with connecting to the staff members responsible for education and workforce issues.
When requesting a meeting, indicate whether your preference is for the meeting to take place in-person or virtually. The House and Senate office buildings have re-opened to the public, and most local offices are open as well, but you may still be offered or request a virtual meeting via a video-conferencing platform or even via phone. Early in the new Congress, you will likely be offered a virtual meeting for convenience, but if you can attend an in-person meeting on Capitol Hill or back in your state or congressional district during a congressional recess, take the opportunity to connect with staff in-person! ACTE’s National Policy Seminar in March is a great time to connect with new Members of Congress in DC!
Be sure to remember that staffers are the “eyes and ears” of their bosses and establishing rapport with them is extremely impactful. Do not feel slighted if you are not able to meet directly with your Member of Congress.
Before the meeting:
Learn about the policymaker and his/her priority issues.
- Be prepared to answer questions or provide information about your program and know what points you want to make before the meeting. Often, the Member of Congress or their staff member will ask how they can be helpful to you. This is a great segue into your questions for the staff members and requests for support.
- Research any policy positions that the Member of Congress has taken in the past on education, workforce development and/or CTE.
During the meeting:
Tell the official who you represent, what you want to talk about and why you are talking with him or her.
If you are advocating for a specific bill, be sure to refer to it by number, explain its status and indicate what action you would like the official to take. Be direct, but polite.
Ask the official about their support for education, workforce development and CTE.
Many new Members of Congress are still learning about CTE and how it impacts their states and districts. This is a great time in the meeting to gauge their understanding and support of key ACTE priorities, such as Perkins Basic State Grant funding.
Use your expertise and share success stories.
You are there to share your expertise on the issue you’re discussing. Be prepared to share brief anecdotes and success stories to make your point. Be sure to identify how your community and the policymaker’s constituents will be affected. Sharing your expertise will encourage the office to come to you in the future when questions arise.
Establish yourself as a resource to the policymaker.
Policymakers and their staffs are always looking for community members with expertise to share about a particular issue. In your introductory communications with them or their staffs, you can explain your professional experiences and expertise with CTE. In the future, the office may reach out to you to help answer questions. The presence of someone “on the ground” in the state and district will be helpful to them in their work.
Discuss how your program serves the community.
Discuss your program or organization and its importance to the community. Discuss the importance of CTE programs to the people in your community, local businesses and the economy. Cite specific examples of your program’s success in meeting the particular needs of your area and emphasize why maintaining an investment in CTE is so important. It is a good idea to have with you 1-2 pages of information to leave behind as a future reference.
Summarize major points.
Wrap up the meeting by summarizing the major points of discussion and leave behind a fact sheet with your name, address and phone number. Send the fact sheet via email to the staffer or legislator that you met with if you attended a virtual meeting.
After the meeting:
First, send a brief thank you letter and any follow-up information you may have promised to the policymaker and the staff who were instrumental in assisting you. Then, begin working to keep up the relationship with the office over time. Periodically send information that may be of interest to the office. Invite them to visit your program. Thank the officials who honor commitments or who vote in support of your position. Also remember that developing and maintaining good relationships with staff may be the most effective means of making your concerns heard.
Let ACTE know the results from your visits and other contacts with federal policymakers. If you visit, receive return correspondence or communicate with your Members of Congress in other ways, please complete a Hill report form. This gives ACTE staff in Washington additional insight into the positions of Members of Congress and helps us identify strong supporters and those that need additional attention or information.
Inviting freshmen Members of Congress to visit your programs:
As freshmen lawmakers begin to settle in, you can invite them for a tour of your school/CTE programs. Your policymakers’ understanding will go a long way with an up-close and personal tour of programs!
Send a brief letter or email to the policymaker at least six weeks before the desired date. Explain why you would like the official to visit your program (to see how an example of a CTE program can work in the community, the importance of supporting such initiatives, etc.). Include specific information about the visit (proposed date, time, location, others who may be invited, whether the media will be invited and what activities are planned for the visit).
Social media outreach to freshmen Members of Congress
Sharing your thoughts with your Senators or Representative on a routine basis will keep CTE in the front of their minds. By using social media as an advocacy tool, we can influence Congress to continue and improve successful programs like Perkins, ESSA and WIOA.
Social media advocacy is one of the quickest and simplest ways to spread the CTE message to your new Members of Congress. You can share the benefits of your CTE program, activities your students are involved in, or your thoughts on key policy issues. In a visual age, graphics and other images can help you draw attention to your posts and illustrate your messages.
- Tweet directly to your policymaker or members of the media to make sure your message is seen by the intended audience. Search for members of your local media, and tag and tweet at them to highlight your message.
- Reply to and engage with others’ Tweets and posts in the CTE sphere to build the conversation on Twitter. Respond to Tweets from policymakers or tag them in your Tweets about CTE.
- Tag your friends and followers on Twitter, Instagram or Facebook to encourage them to share CTE-related stories and amplify your content to their followers.
- Tweet the action you want your Members of Congress to take, such as more robust support for CTE, support specific legislation or to visit your program. Link to on key CTE related issues on the ACTE website.
- Tweet at @ACTEcareertech and @ACTEpolicy.
Letters and emails to freshmen Members of Congress
As you begin writing to the incoming members of the 118th Congress, there are some key things to keep in mind in your messaging:
- Remember that they are forming their legislative philosophies and may be learning about CTE for the first time. Include enough information that they can begin to build knowledge, while not overwhelming them.
- Offering to serve as a resource to them is especially important because they are looking for trustworthy sources of information. You can also invite them to visit your school and programs to begin building a relationship in-person.
- It is more important than with established Members to direct them to more information about CTE, including Perkins data, ACTE resources and your school’s CTE programs—sources of information they or their staff may not be familiar with.
Letters and emails are often a good first step in the relationship building process and can also be used to request a more in-depth meeting to introduce yourself to the education and workforce staff members.
You can send a formal business letter via an email attachment or a simple email message to your policymakers or members of their staff. A pre-loaded letter that you can send directly to new policymakers can be found in ACTE’s Action Center here.
In a digital world, a brief email message is more likely to be read by the appropriate staff member than a lengthy letter. If you are asking for their time for a meeting, inviting them to an event or asking for their support, make sure that your request is as clear as possible.
More advocacy resources and advocacy best practices:
ACTE has developed a wide variety of tools to assist you in your advocacy activities, keep you informed and promote ongoing support for CTE. The tools here provide step-by-step directions and examples that will help you reach out to policymakers at the local, state and federal levels, as well as your community and the media. From your Members of Congress to your state and local policymakers, these individuals all make decisions that impact CTE. With your help, we can ensure the strength and future of CTE!
Don’t forget to maintain relationships with your returning policymakers! Even lawmakers who have been in office before may shift their focuses and priorities, so congratulate them on their re-election victory and reiterate your willingness to serve as a resource for them. You are an expert in your field and can offer to provide additional information regarding the CTE field, the issues facing CTE, and the impact of proposed legislation.
Visit ACTE’s Advocacy Toolkit and ACTE Action Center today!
ACTE’s Public Policy team is available to help with any advocacy and policy-related questions! Please contact Jori Houck, Media Relations and Advocacy Associate, at firstname.lastname@example.org or Government Relations Manager, Zach Curtis (email@example.com).