How You Can Join the Fight for Education in Washington (CIC Snapshot)

At AEP’s 2011 Content in Context conference Jeff Capizzano, The Policy Equity Group, and Jonah Stuart, Teaching Strategies, took a look at the current picture on the Hill regarding ESEA and funding and strategies for building a relationship with legislators and influencing policy.

Current picture in Washington

  • Little movement in ESEA: The Administration has sent a blueprint and legislative specifications for what they want to see in the bill to Congress. Senator Harkin (D-IA), Chair of the Senate HELP Committee wants a comprehensive bill; Representative Kline (R-MN), Chair of the House Education and the Workforce Committee would like to examine one section at a time. Neither Stuart nor Capizzano believe that ESEA will be reauthorized in the current year.
  • Appropriations for FY 11: We sustained some FY10 funding, but it’s not a great picture. Now, we are going through FY12 appropriations process. The Administration asked for an increase, but the House wants significant reductions. So far, there does not seem to be much room for compromise.
  • The upside of the little movement is that AEP has more time to work with the Hill to make sure the voice of the learning resource industry is heard. AEP is working on an innovation policy statement that asks Congress and the Administration to open up federal resources, such as i3, to for-profit companies because we can be a part of innovation, but there are huge opportunity costs. In addition to development expenses, we have to pay for research to prove the products work. This leaves little room in many companies to work on true innovations. In addition, the statement also looks at professional development. In order for any instructional innovation to make any impact, teachers need training on how to effectively use the new resources.

Advice for forming a relationship with your legislator

  • Politics is all about relationship building. You need to invest time to in the relationship to gain access. The goal is to become a trusted expert so the legislative staff come to you for advice. The initial communication should come from the top executive.
  • Legislators value constituent companies because you vote, pay taxes, and generate revenue in for their district. When invitations come from a constituent, they prioritize higher.
  • When trying to get attention, provide a compelling reason for them to meet with you–phrase the invitation so that they know how the meeting will benefit them. For example, plan an event and invite the legislator as a keynote, or invite them to your headquarters for a photo op and to make an announcement on a mutually supported issue.
  • Identify a specific issue the legislator is passionate about and use it to your advantage. Use research to back up your points and reframe it to fit the legislator’s agenda.
  • Initiate contact in your district, then schedule a meeting in DC. The local offices focus on constituent relations; the DC staff focus on issues.
  • Do your homework: have a well-defined ask, anticipate question, make sure you understand the issue well, and know the political climate.
  • Once you establish the relationship, offer your expertise and time when the staffers come to you for questions.

Most important, be seen as an advocate for education across the board. Don’t just come to them when the issue directly affects your bottom line. You don’t want to annoy them with too much communication, but show them you support improving education in all areas for all children.

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June 2011