At NASSP, we strive every day to make principals’ voices heard loud and clear in the halls of Congress. However, for members of Congress, there is nothing quite like hearing from your constituents directly. As an NASSP member, you have access to exclusive tools that allow you to do just that.
Prior to joining NASSP in April, I served as the legislative fellow for Rep. Dave Loebsack (D-IA) where I predominately handled education issues. In this role, I was responsible for providing vote recommendations on pending legislation; drafting speeches; providing staff for Congressman Loebsack at education meetings and events with constituents; and more. Perhaps the most important lesson I learned on Capitol Hill was how constituents contribute to the political process by providing policymakers and their staff with perspectives from the field.
When constituents go to Capitol Hill, the expectation is they will have a chance to meet with their representative or senator. Although these meetings occur regularly, the hectic schedules of elected officials can often force the legislative assistant to take the meeting instead. This actually presents stakeholders with a unique opportunity to inform and influence the staff member that is ultimately responsible for advancing the legislative priorities of his or her boss.
In my previous role as a legislative fellow, I had a small group of advocacy organizations and stakeholders that I would reach out to before providing vote recommendations or before determining whether or not the congressman should sign legislation. This group was comprised of constituents—including principals just like you—and advocacy organizations with which I had established relationships. Each member of this group had three things in common: they had knowledge of the policy landscape at all levels; they provided brief-yet-constant updates of their work; and they responded to time-sensitive emails and phone calls.
It is important to remember that when Congress is in session, staffers have an extremely full schedule. Many of them handle a wide range of policy issues, which can make it difficult to become an expert on every subject while keeping up with policy trends. As a result, they rely on a select group of trusted stakeholders to provide the information necessary to make informed policy recommendations.
How can you become a constituent who affects change in Congress? By joining the NASSP Federal Grassroots Network (FGN). With FGN you have the opportunity to stay current on policy proposals in Congress. You’ll also receive advocacy training and advice for successful meetings with your legislators, plus you’ll be invited to attend events including the NASSP’s State Coordinator and Presidents-Elect Advocacy Conference (next year’s session takes place June 27–29, 2016).
If you are interested in becoming more involved in federal policymaking, visit www.nassp.org/fgn to sign up, and we will you provide you with the tools and information you need to become a trusted source of information for congressional staff and legislators.
David Chodak is the associate director of advocacy at NASSP. Follow him on Twitter @dnchodak.