By Eric Kennedy
KSBA Director of Governmental Relations
In Frankfort, some of my fellow lobbyists are saying that they haven’t experienced a time filled with as many high-stakes changes for public education since 1990. Although I wasn’t in Frankfort then (I was a first-grader at Morgan Elementary in Paducah at the time), I readily believe them. Significant reforms are being made on multiple fronts, and school boards are affected by changes across the spectrum of public policy, from employment law to tax law. Most of the major new laws enacted last session, and many of the proposals being debated now, all directly impact the work of school boards, including right to work, prevailing wage, charter schools, curriculum mandates, pension reform, tax reform, Medicaid reform, and the state budget.
This is why there has never been a more critical time for every school board member and superintendent to communicate with their representatives in the General Assembly. Not one of us should read a “call to action” and think that someone else will handle it. If all 1,040 board members and superintendents actively respond with calls, emails and personal messages to their legislators, as well as with letters to the editor, social media posts and other public outreach efforts, our voices will be heard and we will affect the legislation that affects our kids.
Calls to action
Ordinarily, advocacy is a long game where most of the work is built around fostering close, trusting and respectful relationships with our partners in the legislature. That is obviously still important now; however, in the immediate future there are more critical steps to take. Above all, please watch for calls to action from KSBA via email, Facebook and Twitter, and be ready to call the Legislative Research Commission’s Message Line to let your representatives know the full story of how a vote from them could impact your students. That number is 1-800-372-7181. With issues and people as polarized as they are, every call matters just like every vote matters! Our power is in our numbers, and that means each and every one of us need to communicate with our legislators with accuracy and earnestness.
The proper use of social media, such as Facebook and Twitter, can be the most effective advocacy tool available today. Please search for and follow your legislators on these platforms, and use them as another way to inform them as to how any given proposal will impact your students. While these mediums are powerful, misuse can be just as destructive. Here is one fundamental rule to guide you: If you wouldn’t want a statement to be quoted as the front-page headline of your local newspaper, don’t post that statement in any form on any social media platform – as a Facebook post, a private message, a comment to someone else, a Tweet, a picture, etc. Remember that nothing is truly private. Even a fleeting comment made to a friend that is meant to remain private may be forwarded to someone else and reposted publicly.
Word of mouth
New, innovative lines of communication are important, but we would be foolish to neglect old- fashioned word of mouth. We can amplify our message if we get others to join our cause, and that means speaking to our friends and neighbors and asking them to call their legislators. School board members are among the most civic-minded people in the community, and many of you are active members of churches, fraternal organizations, business groups and local chambers of commerce. These are great forums for us to raise a concern or voice an opinion that may spur others to reach out with us to the leaders in Frankfort. With the success of our kids hanging in the balance, the time is now to raise the cause of quality public education everywhere we can, as often as we can.