How to Be a Charter School Advocate
Charter school administrators, teachers, parents and students can be powerful advocates for charter schools. Legislators want to hear from you! Please take a moment to read how you can become an effective advocate for your charter school and for the Florida charter school movement as a whole.
Tips for Inviting an Elected Official to Your School*
The Best Time to Invite Your Legislator for a Visit
- Legislators convene in Tallahassee between the second week of January and the first week of May every year for committee meetings and the Regular Legislative Session. During this period, legislators have virtually no time to visit schools.
- August-November is probably the best time for legislators to visit schools, although late May to early June can also be a good time.
- The entire House of Representatives is up for election every even-numbered year, thus many legislators are busy campaigning throughout the summer and into early November of those years.
- State Senators are elected for four-year terms, with one-half elected every two years. It is helpful to know when your senator’s term ends so that you know when s/he may be campaigning.
- Some campaigning legislators may see school visits as an opportunity to become better known by the electorate. If you invite an incumbent or candidate during the campaign season, be sure to invite his or her opponent(s) as well.
How to Invite, Engage and Thank Your Legislators
- Find the names of your legislators (be sure to correctly spell your legislator’s name):
House of Representatives
When writing your letter, briefly tell about your school and your involvement with charter schools. A personal touch is very important.
- State your purpose for writing in the first paragraph of the letter: Why do you want him/her to attend your event or participate in an activity at your school?
- State specifically what you want the official to do at your event or how you would like him/her to engage with the children, e.g., read with them, talk about public service, etc.
- Be original. Never use a form letter or send copies as originals. Don’t worry about typing your letter. A legibly handwritten letter can be best.
- Be sure to mention if media are expected to attend.
- Be courteous, to the point, and include key information about what, where and when, and provide adequate directions to your respective event or activity.
- Follow-up with a telephone call to the official’s appointment secretary or aide about your event.
- Properly address your correspondence: Be sure to include your return address on the envelope, as envelopes with no return address will be discarded.
- Address your elected official as follows:
Senator Jane Doe
Tallahassee, FL 32399-1100
House of Representatives:
The Honorable John Doe
Florida House of Representatives
Tallahassee, FL 32399-1300
- If your elected official cannot attend, you may wish to request the attendance of his or her aide or staff member.
- Don’t forget to THANK elected officials for their public service, even if their views do not align with yours. They often make significant personal and financial sacrifices to serve and always appreciate your thanks.
- After the elected official or staff person has attended your event, be sure to send a THANK YOU card or note. Typed thank you letters are fine, but handwritten notes, including those from your students, are even better.
*Adapted with permission from the Colorado League of Charter Schools.
Tips to Get Your Voice Heard in Tallahassee
Legislators receive an enormous amount of phone calls, emails and letters from their constituents. Unfortunately, their full agendas limit their ability to personally read and respond to all correspondence. How then, can you be sure your voice is heard? Here are some tips to help you get the most impact out of your communications with your legislators.
Know who your legislators are and how to contact them. If you don't know who represents you or your school, find out by using the online guide located at www.leg.state.fl.us. Your legislator’s page will give you his or her mailing addresses, phone numbers, and email address.
Call now to schedule an introductory meeting. Chances are, the member is familiar with your organization, but has not had the opportunity to reach out to you. Make it easy on them and make the first move. If you and your legislator are unable to schedule a one-on-one meeting, a conference call may be arranged. Also, it is important to note that meeting with your legislator’s aide can be just as effective in getting information to the member. It is their responsibility to brief them on key issues and constituent meetings in the district. Establishing relationships with staff in the legislative office will assist in getting your message across.
In either instance, plan your visit or call carefully. Keep to the point and discuss only one issue. Organize your thoughts ahead of time and make notes to help you stay on track. Put together a one page ‘fact sheet’ on your school and its accomplishments. Legislators respond to succinct bullet points that are easy to read and retain. Leave the briefing paper with your legislator. This will help him or her better retain what you present.
Once you have initially met your legislator, be creative in keeping him or her interested in your organization. Is there a parent/teacher meeting coming up? Invite them to address the meeting and provide a legislative update on education. Have a ‘pot luck’ fundraising dinner scheduled? Have them actively participate by perhaps serving food. Most members are good sports and it will give them a chance to meet many of your associates, and their constituents, at the same time. Need a substitute teacher? Who better to teach a state government class than one involved in the process directly!
Further, many members will have town hall meetings, or open hours, where citizens are invited to meet their legislator and discuss issues expected to be at the forefront of debate before, during or after the legislative session. Make sure you are there to participate. You may even consider bringing students to the meeting as local media will be on hand and are always interested in covering local schools and their interests.
In addition, place legislators on your mailing list for newsletters, events and meetings, including press releases. The more information you send to their offices, the better acquainted they will become with your leadership, organization, and ultimately your key issues. Legislators will begin committee meetings in Tallahassee in September. They will continue to meet one week a month until the new year, and then more frequently until the Legislative Session begins in March and continues through May.
If you are planning on being in Tallahassee during these interim committee weeks, call or write for an appointment with your legislators as soon as possible. In fact, you may even consider giving testimony on charter schools at public hearings held by the Legislature, which would require contacting the appropriate committee administrative assistant to schedule.
The old adage, “There is strength in numbers,” is certainly true when it comes to lobbying your issue. There is no better example than the Florida Consortium of Charter Schools’ “Charter School Day” and “Walk the Halls” in April, a one day lobbying effort in Tallahassee. If you have not yet had the chance to participate, it is a tremendous opportunity to meet not only your local legislators, but also those who sit on key education and appropriation committees that are important to the cause. Show your support by bringing your school’s administrators, teachers, parents and children to discuss first hand the importance of charter schools and the great accomplishments achieved throughout Florida.
These are some suggestions that over time will prove successful in educating your legislators and their staff on your school and in forming a long lasting partnership.