Policy Matters Blog
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Demystifying State Level Advocacy
It’s legislative session season in my state, South Dakota. In fact, right now I am sitting at my desk listening to the Senate Education Committee hearing while I write this blog (I’m an advocacy dork, I know). In our previous blog, GPR Committee Western Region representative Kristin Rush asked what issues we are hoping to address in our communities. In my community, these policy issues tend to surround school funding, professional shortages, and other issues related to some of our most vulnerable children. Following the process of lawmaking in addition to fulfilling our roles as school psychologists can be a daunting task. NASP has strong mechanisms for surveillance of bills related to school psychology, but it can be difficult for state associations and individual school psychologists to know what to do when they are alerted to new bills. As part of an ongoing effort to help demystify policy making, I hope I can give you some tools to help understand the landscape of lawmaking in your state as well as options that you can do to engage in the process.
Step 1: Be aware. All states have mechanisms to track bills. NASP does this for us with keywords related to school psychologist shortages, hot topic issues, as well as other education-related bills. These alerts get emailed to state leadership as bills are introduced and as bills progress through the legislative process. This week, I was alerted to over 20 bills related to education issues through NASP and other educational partners! It is so helpful to have them all in one spot to be able to respond better in real time.
Step 2: Be available. Bills that go to hearing need people to testify. In my state, you can testify in person or virtually, if you notify the committee in advance. If an issue has risen to the point of a hearing, it might be beneficial for you to develop some testimony (often paired with local data, facts regarding best practices, and a personal story) and give a specific ask for lawmakers. NASP’s Policy Playbook includes helpful tips and best practices for preparing testimony.
Step 3: Be a positive nag. If you cannot go to your Capitol, or if you do not have experience with testifying, you can easily write an email or a letter to your local lawmakers. In the letter, start with a positive greeting, mention the group you are representing or the group you are a member of, and then give a specific ask related to your support or opposition of a bill. After you give your initial stance, build your argument in your letter using position statements or key messages about critical policy issues from NASP. There is no need to reinvent the wheel! We have designed these resources specifically for your use in advocacy. State what best practices are for children, and then use data center information (like the Kids Count Data Center) to highlight what educational practices look like in your state. End your letter with a story about how this bill will affect you and the children you serve. Thank them for their service, and plan to follow up again with them in the coming weeks.
Step 4: Encourage those around you. Find other local school psychologists to engage in similar practices. See if you can attend a legislative hearing, or perhaps have a listening party online to hear what is happening in your state government. Be sure to check out NASP’s Advocacy & Public Policy Interest Group to find other advocacy-minded school psychologists to connect with. Use your social media presence to tag lawmakers and other decision makers to ask them to support or oppose bills to ensure they are promoting best practices for kids.
Step 5: Never give up. This work can be challenging but highly rewarding. Each relationship built, each letter written, and each small act of advocacy can be a part of making a significant difference in your state. We must collectively remain hopeful that a better world can exist.
As you are receiving information about legislation in your state, how are you engaging in these steps? Do you have a favorite way to engage with decision makers to have influence on policy? Share it with us, and we will amplify your message! Thank you for each act of advocacy; I cannot wait to see what we can all do together!
This blog is part of an ongoing series of posts from NASP's GPR Committee. You can find the previous post in this series here.