By Brad Hughes
KSBA Director of Member Support/Communications Services
For one movie, 1996’s Jerry McGuire produced a list of lines known even to people who never saw the flick, including:
l “You had me at hello.”
l “You complete me.”
l “Help me help you.”
And then there’s the scene where Cuba Gooding’s NFL player Rod Tidwell and Tom Cruise’s agent McGuire shout the bottom line for a new contract between Tidwell and the Arizona Cardinals:
“Show me the money.”
During the 2017 legislative debate over charter schools, a lawmaker – addressing the potential for charters to take away state funds from already underfunded traditional public schools – complained that all he ever heard from local educators was a clamoring for more funding. Essentially, all he was getting from school personnel was, “Show me the money.”
It’s certainly not the first time a lawmaker grumbled that sentiment, but consider it in the larger scope of the session. The demand for more “choice” options such as allocating funds for private school vouchers. Critics’ broad painting of public schools with a brush based solely on schools that lag academically. The assertion of many lawmakers who backed the statewide option for charter schools that their local education leaders shouldn’t worry about charters because their schools are performing well.
Work on the agenda for the 2018 General Assembly – including a two-year budget – is underway. New charter school funding legislation is required. Private school vouchers will be championed. And the commitment of state resources to traditional public schools surely will face more scrutiny.
Local education leaders can use the rest of 2017 to tell their stories of success and challenges and to show what and how “the money” is being used to improve teaching and learning.
Get legislators in schools, learning about education
Here are a few ideas to get your conversations started:
Schedule a half-day tour of some schools – not just a presentation at the central office. Pair legislators with board member/administrator/teacher teams to tour together, and then talk together in small groups before a wrap-up Q&A.
Ensure that legislators are copied on important reports that detail aspects of academic progress throughout the coming months, not just when the state releases the next school report card. Include – in plain language – explanations of identified issues, actions taken and results produced.
Invite lawmakers to any board meeting where there will be a presentation on a district need that directly depends on how much the General Assembly and the governor allocate for the SEEK formula. If the district needs to upgrade the bus fleet, share how local funds have to be used because state transportation financing hasn’t kept up with the costs. And if they don’t show up, send them a summary of the discussion.
Build legislators’ knowledge of how you are using local resources to improve classroom teaching, expand programs that aid struggling students and provide learning resources such as full-day kindergarten. Again, put the dollars-and-cents particulars in front of them with a minimum of education acronyms, jargon and program titles that are meaningless to a layperson.
Make opportunities for one-on-one, focused (that’s really important) chats with representatives and senators. Remember that in many, if not most, cases, they are just as much your constituents as you are their constituents. Create relationships if they don’t already exist, and if they do, keep them alive with some of the tales of improving student achievement that you share with each other at board meetings.
And make this an ongoing effort, not a pick one and mark it off the checklist.
The Last Word
The National Conference of State Legislatures has an annual “Legislators Back to School Program” in September. The stakes of 2018 are too high to risk on a one-and-done, dog-and-pony show to educate state representatives and senators about our schools’ progress as well as challenges that impede growth.
Legislative decision makers are hearing proposals to redirect resources from public schools to other options. Who will speak for public schools if we do not?
And that’s a message worth getting out.