What is Advocacy?
Advocacy is the back bone of the PTA. Advocating is one of the significant differences between PTA and other parent groups. When you become a member of PTA, you are advocating for all children across the nation, not just the children in one school building. With 122 years in existence, PTA is the oldest and largest volunteer child advocacy association in the United States. PTA is a successful advocacy group that has a long history of promoting education, health, and the well-being of all children.
With its powerful voice, PTA advocates by conducting visits with members of Congress, lobbying for education, and help secure adequate state and local laws for our students.
PTA has been instrumental in improving the lives of millions of children by advocating for the creation of kindergarten classes, child labor laws, the juvenile justice system, and arts in education. Our recent advocacy efforts have been focused on keeping our children safe from gun violence and ensuring college and career-ready upon graduation from high school.
Use these resources for everything from writing your legislators to scheduling Capitol Hill visits—even to reach out to the media.
What It’s All About & How it Works from the National PTA Experts
How a Bill Becomes a Law
The National PTA put the following information together.
Introducing the Bill and Referral to a CommitteeAny member of Congress may introduce legislation. Each bill that is introduced by a member of Congress is assigned a number—H.R. number for bills originating in the House of Representatives and S. number for bills originating in the Senate. After a bill has been introduced and assigned a number, it is referred to the committee, which has jurisdiction over the issue. For example, an education bill would be referred to the U.S. House Committee on Education and the Workforce or the U.S. Senate Committee on Health Education Labor and Pensions.
Conference Committee: A committee called with a set number of members from the House and Senate that are tasked with reconciling differences between different versions of legislation passed by each chamber. The conference committee is usually composed of the senior Members of the standing committees of each House that originally considered the legislation. Each house determines the number of conferees from its house. The number of conferees need not be equal from the two houses of Congress. In order to conclude its business, a majority of both House and Senate delegations to the conference must sign the conference report.
Introducing the Bill and Referral to a Committee: Any member of Congress may introduce legislation. Each bill that is introduced by a member of
Congress is assigned a number—H.R. number for bills originating in the House of Representatives and S. # for bills originating in the Senate. After a bill has been introduced and assigned a number, it is referred to the committee, which has jurisdiction over the issue. For example, an education bill would be referred to the U.S. House Committee on Education and the Workforce or the U.S. Senate Committee on Health Education Labor and Pensions.
Committee ActionAfter the bill has been referred to the appropriate committee, the chairman of the committee will decide whether or not to hold a hearing or a “mark-up” on the bill. If there is a hearing, members of the committee gather information about the bill and its effects from a number of people who are knowledgeable about the issue and invite individuals to provide expert testimony during the hearing. If there is a mark-up, members of the committee will make changes (called amendments) to the original text of the bill. After the mark-up is complete, the committee will vote the bill out.
Floor Debate and Votes In the House of Representatives, the Speaker of the House determines if and when a bill will come before the full body for a vote. In the Senate, this is the function of the majority leader. Each chamber of the legislative branch has a different process for voting on and amending bills after they are introduced.
In the House, the Rules Committee sets the time allotted for debate and rules for offering amendments (in the House, all amendments offered must be relevant to the bill). After proponents and opponents debate a bill, the bill is reported back to the House for a vote. A quorum must be present (218 Representatives) to have a final vote. If a quorum is not present, the Sergeant at Arms is sent out to round up missing members. For non-controversial bills, the Speaker of the House may make a motion to suspend the rules and pass the bill.
In the Senate, there are no time restrictions for debate, unless cloture is invoked. Senators can offer amendments, even if amendments are not relevant to the bill, such as riders. Bills pass the Senate by a majority vote or unanimous consent. Senators can obstruct passage of a bill by prolonging the debate called a filibuster or by placing a hold on the bill. A majority of non-controversial bills passed by the Senate are “hotlined,” meaning they pass without an actual voice or recorded vote, but by unanimous consent, without any debate or amendments. “Holds” are placed when a Senator wants to object to a unanimous consent request or to simply review and negotiate changes to the bill.
Referral to the Other ChamberAfter a bill has been passed by one chamber of Congress; it is then referred to the other chamber. Upon receiving a referred bill, the second chamber may consider the bill as it was received, reject it, or amend it.
Conference on a BillIf the House and Senate versions of a bill vary after passing both chambers, a conference committee is created to reconcile the two different versions of the bill. If no agreement can be reached, the bill dies. If the conference committee is able to come to a consensus, both the House and Senate must pass the new version of the bill. If either house does not pass this version, the bill dies. Often, the House and the Senate committees of jurisdiction will negotiate provision of non-controversial bills to avoid conference.
Action by the PresidentAfter the final version of the bill is passed in both chambers of Congress, it is sent to the president to be signed into law. If the president does not agree with the bill, they may veto it. The president may also “pocket-veto” a bill by taking no action on it for ten days after Congress has adjourned. If the president vetoes a bill, Congress may override it by a two-thirds roll call vote. If they succeed, the bill becomes a law.
Federal Appropriations & Budget Process
Every year, Congress must pass a budget to fund the government for the next year. This congressional requirement has become more complex over the years, but no less important, as the budget decides what federal programs should be funded. This webinar will explain the annual federal appropriations process, ways to effectively advocate for investments in education and National PTA’s federal funding priorities.
The Federal Budget Process: The Authorization of Spending
The President’s Budget Request
The federal government operates on a fiscal year that runs from October 1 through September 30. Each fiscal year, the President must submit a budget request to Congress, usually by the first Monday in February. However, in years where there is a change of administrations the budget request is usually submitted later. The budget request, developed by the President’s Office of Management and Budget (OMB), is a long, detailed document that illustrates how the Federal budget would best be utilized to reflect the administration’s goals. This proposal covers how much the Federal Government should spend on a variety of public purposes, such as education, defense, and health, as well as how much it should take in as tax revenues.
The administration is required to ask for spending levels for all discretionary programs. The President’s budget request may also include changes to mandatory programs, also referred to as entitlement programs. The budget request may include proposed changes to the federal tax code in order to affect federal revenues available for funding programs.
The Congressional Budget Resolution
After receiving the President’s Budget Proposal, the House and Senate Budget Committees hold hearings in which officials from the administration are questioned about their budget requests. Once these hearings have been completed, the committees draft their own budget proposals for the fiscal year, and the full Senate and full House take up their respective versions of the budget. After each chamber of Congress has finalized a budget, a House-Senate conference committee reconciles the differences between the two versions of the bill. Because the Federal Budget is a concurrent congressional resolution, which means that it does not have the force of law but is rather used as a guide for appropriations, it does not go back to the President for his or her signature after it passes the House and Senate.
Although Congress is supposed to approve a budget by April 15, it often does not happen this quickly. If Congress is unable to agree on a budget for the coming fiscal year, no new budget is adopted and the previous year’s budget, which includes provisions for the next five years, is used. It is also important to note that just because a program funding amount is approved by Congress during the budget process, it does not necessarily mean that the appropriations committee will allocate that sum. Rather, the budget acts as a ceiling for spending that directs the appropriations committee.
The Federal Appropriations Process: The Allocation of Money
Determining Committee Assignment
Every final budget resolution, as passed by Congress, separates federal spending into many broad spending categories known as budget functions. Also included with the budget is a report that details how federal spending is to be divvied up by congressional committee. This committee-specific number is known as a 302(a) allocation. These allocations differ slightly for House and Senate committees, since committee jurisdictions vary somewhat between the two chambers.
The committees with jurisdiction over mandatory spending programs each receive an allocation representing the total dollar amount, or budget authority, for all of the legislation that they produce for the entire year. All approved spending for discretionary programs are included in a single allocation that goes to the Appropriations Committee in each chamber. The Appropriations Committees then decide how to divide this funding up among their various subcommittees. This subcommittee-specific number is known as a 302(b) allocation.
For every appropriations bill, the Chairman of the subcommittee with jurisdiction proposes a draft bill, known as the chair’s mark. The subcommittee then has an opportunity to debate then offer and vote on amendments, a process called a mark-up. Once this process has been completed and the appropriations bill has been passed by the sub- committee, it comes before the full Appropriations Committee for consideration. The Appropriations Committee holds its own mark-up of the bill passed by the subcommittee. The bill passed by the Appropriations Committee then comes before the full House or Senate where it can once again be amended before it is finally passed.
Typically, the Senate waits until an appropriations bill has been passed by the full House of Representatives before the appropriate subcommittee takes up the bill, offering their own substitute and beginning the markup process for themselves. However, this is not always the case.
Once both chambers of Congress have passed their versions of an appropriations bill, these two versions must be reconciled in a House-Senate conference committee. The resulting, single bill is then once again voted upon in each chamber. If passed, the bill is then sent to the president to be signed into law.
Other Important Aspects of the Federal Budget
Sometimes the Administration and Congress have difficulties agreeing on a budget and appropriations plan. When Congress fails to authorize and appropriate a new budget for the next fiscal year, it must pass what is called a Continuing Resolution, or CR, in order to keep the government operating. A Continuing Resolution is legislation in the form of a congressional joint resolution, typically passed when a fiscal year is about to begin or has begun, to allow federal agencies and programs to continue to operate at their current funding levels through the next fiscal year. A continuing resolution must be passed by both houses of Congress and signed into law by the president.
While a Continuing Resolution can apply to a full fiscal year, Congress can and does pass short-term CRs that last for a few days up to a few months. Short-term CRs are usually passed when Congress believes they may be able to reach a longer-term solution but need to pass funding legislation to avoid a government shut-down.
National Debt Limit
The debt limit, or ceiling, is the total amount of money that the United States government is authorized to borrow to meet its existing financial obligations. It is important to note that legislation to raise the debt ceiling is different than appropriation or authorization bills (which fund programs). Accordingly, legislation to raise the debt ceiling neither prevents new deficits from being incurred nor permits new spending commitments. Instead, it allows the government to finance existing legal obligations.. When the debt ceiling is approached, the Treasury Department must take what is called “extraordinary measures” to keep the United States from defaulting on its existing debt. While these measures will keep the government from defaulting for a short period of time, it is not a permanent solution and Congress must act by raising, or not raising, the debt ceiling.
Corresponding with Members of Congress
The National PTA put the following information together.
Interaction between any elected official and his or her constituents is a crucial part of the democratic process. This is especially true for members of an advocacy organization such as the National PTA.
PTA wants legislative leaders to view PTA’s members as a useful and knowledgeable resource when it comes to matters that concern the well-being of children. Building this relationship is done in a variety of ways, not the least of which is a regular correspondence between you and your member of Congress. Hearing the needs and concerns of their constituents is of the utmost importance to elected officials, as constituents are the people who decide whether or not they remain in office.
When you decide to advocate on behalf of children, it is important to consider your audience. While it may be tempting to send out a mass e-mail or letter to all or many members of Congress, only the members who represent your district will respond to what you have to say. The PTA Takes Action Network can provide you with contact information for your members of Congress, should you need assistance.
If you are a state PTA President or President-Elect, a Federal Legislative Chair, or are otherwise representing your entire state PTA, you may contact any member from your state, regardless of whether you live in their district. You can call or e-mail them on behalf of the state PTA. However, if you choose to e-mail them, you will have to obtain their office e-mail address, as the website e-mail forms only accept mail from constituents. To find this e-mail address, you may use our Takes Action Network or call the member’s office directly and ask for the best address to send e-mail to. In this case, whether calling or e-mailing, you would want to use your PTA contact information so as to avoid confusion over constituency.
Things to Remember when Corresponding with Your Members of Congress
- Always be polite and courteous. Members of Congress and their legislative staff are considerably less likely to respond to rude or profane letters.
- Be as concise as possible. Remember that each congressional office has dozens of legislative issues to cover and hundreds of constituent requests each day.
- Include your home or work address in every letter, even in e-mails.
- Thank the member of Congress for taking the time to read your letter.
- Remember that correspondence with any elected official is about building an ongoing relationship and persuading them to think of you as a resource. Even if an elected official does not agree with your point of view on an issue today, they might in the future.
E-mails are the most effective form of communication when advocating a Congressional office. Most Congressional offices now have standard e-mail forms that can be accessed right from the “Contact” tab of their website. Due to the heightened security measures on Capitol Hill, a letter sent through the post can take between two and four weeks to reach a Congressional office. However, if you email that same letter, the office will receive it immediately. This is especially important when what you are advocating for is time sensitive; the best example of this is when you are asking the member of Congress to vote a certain way on an upcoming bill. If you mailed the letter, they would likely receive it long after the vote has passed.
- Keep your letter as short and concise as possible. Some e-mails can be as short as a single paragraph urging your member of Congress to vote a certain way or to advocate for a certain issue, but letters up to three paragraphs are effective.
- Make sure the important information contained in your e-mail jumps out. You can do this by putting what action you are requesting in the subject line (ex: YES on H.R. 3). Even if the member or his/her staff does not take the time to read your letter in its entirety, they will still have received the message that one of their constituents feels a certain way about an issue.
- By using PTA Takes Action Center you can email your members of Congress directly, using a PTA action alert on current legislative issues affecting the education, health and wellbeing of our children.
Drafting Your Letter
After you have used the PTA Takes Action Network to find out who your Congressional representatives are, it’s time to begin drafting your letter. It is generally not the members themselves that read constituent mail, but their legislative aides. These legislative aides receive hundreds of e-mails, phone calls, and letters everyday regarding a wide array of policies, so it is important that your letter be as concise as possible in order to be effective. It is also helpful to use your own words and draft a unique letter for your correspondence with your elected official.
Tips for Drafting an Effective Letter:
- Make sure to include the specific bill number (e.g., H.R. 1 or S. 1).
- A one-page, three-paragraph letter is usually recommended.
- In your first paragraph, explain why you are writing and identify yourself and indicate your connection to PTA.
- In your second paragraph, provide more detail on the issue about which you are writing.
- Briefly include relevant research, local data, and relevant personal stories that will effectively persuade your member of Congress to see your side of the issue.
- State what action you would like your member of Congress to take in the third paragraph. If you are requesting they vote Yes or No on an upcoming vote on a bill, then be direct and say so. Or, politely request that they direct their attention to matters relevant to PTA.
Calling Your Member of Congress
Calling your member of Congress is an effective way to advocate, especially when an important vote is coming up. As with other forms of communication between yourself and an elected official, members of Congress will only correspond with their own constituents out of professional courtesy to other members.
As with writing to your members of Congress, if you are representing your entire state PTA, you may contact any member within your state.
Tips for Calling Your Member of Congress:
- Make sure to prepare beforehand for your call. If there is a certain piece of legislation you would like the member of Congress to vote on, know what the specific number is (e.g., H.R. 2).
- Identify yourself as one of the member’s constituents.
- Explain to the staff member what it is you are calling about and what action you would like the member to take (e.g., voting Yes or No on a piece of legislation).
- Feel free to briefly share any relevant research, data, and stories that you might have with the staff member. This will go a long way in your relationship building with your congressional office. You want them to think of you as a resource when it comes to education issues.
- Try to illustrate the connection between the legislation being voted on in Washington with the effects it will have in your community. This will help bring the point home to the member and provide further encouragement for their office to take your requests and concerns seriously.
- Because congressional offices are extremely busy, it is important to be as concise and brief as possible in order to be effective. While you might feel that explaining the minutiae of a bill to the staff member will be helpful, this will only frustrate whomever you are talking to and will likely not help your cause.
- Be as congenial and polite as possible. Staff members are overwhelmed with angry phone calls, letters, and faxes on a daily basis; being pleasant and easy to talk to will go a long way in getting your voice heard.
- Be aware and respectful of the fact that the staff member may not have in-depth knowledge about the issue or specific legislation you are calling to discuss. There are thousands of bills introduced each Congress, so be mindful of this fact and do not be discouraged if they are not familiar with the issue or legislation.
- Always thank the staff member for taking the time to talk with you.
Keep National PTA Informed
Let National PTA know how your phone conversation went or what response you received from your e-mail. Be sure to include information on where your member of Congress stood on the issues you discussed by utilizing our Advocacy Activity Form. This gives PTA staff in Washington additional insight into the positions of members of Congress and helps us identify strong supporters and those that need additional attention or information, as well as PTA members who have good relationships that can be called upon in the future.
The Honorable (full name)
(Room #) (Name) House Office Building
United States House of Representatives
Washington, DC 20515
Dear Representative (insert name):
As a member of the National Parent Teacher Association (PTA), (your state) PTA and your constituent, I would like to encourage you to support and co-sponsor the Family Engagement in Education Act of 2013. The Family Engagement in Education Act provides resources for schools and districts on best practices in engaging parents to raise student achievement, supports teachers and principals by providing professional development for educators on how to partner with parents to close the achievement gap, and builds statewide and local capacity to engage parents. [Insert information about how the Family Engagement in Education Act would serve families within your community].
Research demonstrates that when parents are engaged in their children’s education, student achievement and graduation rates increase. When families are engaged, students are more likely to score higher on tests, earn higher grades, attend school regularly, have better social skills, demonstrate improved behavior, adapt well to school, graduate from high school on time, and pursue postsecondary education, regardless of their income level. Furthermore, recent research on school reform has demonstrated that meaningful family engagement is an essential component of successful and sustainable school turnaround reforms, as important as school leadership and curriculum alignment.
Additionally, studies show that engaging families is cost effective; schools would have to spend more than $1,000 dollars per pupil to get the same results. The Family Engagement in Education Act is also cost effective; it puts forth a framework for systemic, integrated, and sustainable family engagement at all levels and allows flexibility and provides resources for local innovation and strategic partnership, without authorizing any new spending.
Thank you for taking the time to hear my concerns and again I encourage you to increase funding for these important family engagement programs.
(Insert name and address)
Sample Phone Conversation
Staff Member: Thank you for calling Congresswoman Smith’s office, how may I help you?
Caller: Hello, My name is (your name) from (City and State) and I am calling on behalf of the National PTA/state PTA/local unit PTA.
Staff Member: Wonderful, what can I do for you?
Caller: As a concerned member of the Congresswoman’s district, I support H.R. 2, which is being voted on this week, and I urge the Congresswoman to vote yes on this bill. (Insert information on why you support, in addition to why it is of concern to the member of Congress’s constituents. But remember, be brief!)
Staff Member: Congressman Smith does not support H.R. 2, but thank you for sharing your concerns with us, and I will relay your comments on to the member of Congress.
Caller: Thank you for this information. I appreciate you sharing my thoughts, as I hope the Congresswoman may reconsider her position. Have a great day.
Hosting a Site Visit For a Decisionmaker
You may want to host a site visit to build your relationship with a decisionmaker in a less formal setting, to discuss a policy your PTA would like changed, or just to show off your PTA’s latest advocacy accomplishments. Decisionmakers exist at all levels of government and school administration and can be elected or appointed to their roles. At the federal and state level, a decisionmaker can be a legislator or their staff, or a state or federal education agency staff member. At the local level, decisionmakers can be school administrators or leaders such as school board members, superintendents, principals or teachers. Since local decisionmakers are usually familiar with your school, site visits are most beneficial to build relationships with state and local elected officials or education agency administrators.
Before you begin the process, feel free to reach out to National PTA Government Affairs staff to help brainstorm and plan your visit by emailing GovtAffairs@PTA.org.
Planning the Visit
Before you begin coordinating a school visit, check with your school’s principal to see if there are any policies about site visits. Then, meet with school officials to brainstorm what you would like to accomplish and what messages you would like the site visit to convey to the decisionmaker, such as highlighting successful family engagement programs within your school and/or advocating for a certain policy or practice to be implemented. To ensure the visit runs smoothly, create a draft agenda for the visit—including which classrooms, programs and personnel you’d like the decisionmaker to see in action. If possible, schedule your visit to coincide with a PTA activity or meeting to highlight the work your PTA is doing.
Scheduling the Visit
If you’d like to host a site visit for a federal or state legislator, it’s important to schedule the visit when the decisionmaker is in-district and when school is in session. Members of Congress are usually in their home districts Friday through Monday and during the August recess. The best way to schedule a site visit for a federal-level decisionmaker is to email a letter of request to the elected official’s district scheduler at least six weeks in advance of the proposed site visit. Check out the PTA Take Action Center at PTA.org/TakeAction to find their contact information.
State legislators spend most of their time in-district, which makes scheduling easier. To schedule a site visit with a state-level decisionmaker, you’ll want to call the district office to begin the scheduling process. Always make sure to explain why you believe a site visit would be beneficial (e.g., to see effective family engagement programs). Include specific information about the visit, such as date, time, location, others who may be invited (i.e., business partners), whether the media will be present and what activities are planned for the visit. Elected official’s schedules can be hectic, so be as flexible as possible with your schedule. Make sure to double-check the date and time of the visit with your school and district staff to work out any possible scheduling conflicts, such as school-wide testing.
Alerting the Media
A site visit is a great opportunity to get the word about your PTA’s great work by contacting the media. Before you reach out to any media outlets, it is important to contact your school’s staff to make sure they approve of inviting the media.
If your school agrees to invite media to the site visit, work with the decisionmaker’s press secretary or communications director and school staff to coordinate press activity. Then, invite local television news stations and newspapers to cover the event. Send a media advisory to all the local news outlets alerting them to the time, date and purpose of the site visit. A sample media advisory and other tips for working with media can be found in our Advocacy Toolkit. If the media is unable to be present, take pictures and include them with a summary of the activities and send this to the local media outlets. They may want to cover a recap of your event!
Preparing for the Visit
Prepare teachers and students before the visit by explaining what to expect (e.g., who will be attending, a brief overview of the schedule) as well as appropriate behaviors during the visit. Teachers can plan lessons and activities to help students understand the role of our legislators, civic responsibilities and the purpose of the visit. Make sure you have clear plan of what you would like to show the decisionmaker and if appropriate, any relevant information on policy actions necessary to help or support a program or the school in general.
Hosting the Visit
Have students interact with the decisionmaker during the visit and provide the decisionmaker with statistics about the effectiveness of your programs, success stories about your family engagement efforts, and other information that shows the connection between PTA, your community and the decisionmaker. Throughout the visit, take lots of photos to post on social media and make sure to tag the elected official in your posts.
After the Visit
Once the site visit has ended, it’s time to amplify the visit on social media! Make sure you gather all the photos that were taken during the visit and select the best ones to post online. Tag any relevant participants, including the decisionmaker to help boost visibility.
Then, send a thank-you email or letter to everyone who participated, including any photos and press stories. In your correspondence, recap the highlights of the decisionmaker’s visit and restate any requests for actions the decisionmaker can take to strengthen your school and family engagement policies. Be sure to also request a follow-up meeting to continue to build your relationship with the decisionmaker and further discuss your request for action. Visit our Conducting Meetings with a Decisionmaker page for helpful tips on scheduling and holding your follow-up meeting.
Conducting Meetings with a Decisionmaker
Being an effective child advocate requires building strong relationships with decisionmakers and their staff. Decisionmakers exist at all levels of government and school administration and can be elected or appointed to their roles. At the federal and state level, a decisionmaker can be a legislator or their staff, or a state or federal education agency staff member. At the local level, decisionmakers can be school administrators or leaders such as school board members, superintendents, principals or teachers.
It is important to take every opportunity to reach out to build and maintain your relationship with decisionmakers. Meeting with a decisionmaker and letting them know what policies are important to you, your school and your community is an important step in building a positive, productive relationship.
You should note that decisionmakers at all levels will likely assign staff to participate in meetings, as staff are usually the team members directly involved in developing and/or implementing the policy or policies important to you. Most congressional meetings are taken by one of their staff members, who then relay pertinent information onto the members of Congress. Use the following tips to help you schedule and meet with decisionmakers.
Before Your Visit
You can schedule individual or group visits with decisionmakers. You can meet with your members of Congress either in their Washington, DC office or their district office (i.e., the decisionmaker’s office in your state). Most decisionmakers want to meet with people who live in the area they represent—at the federal level, this means most elected officials will not meet with constituents from other states or districts, so it’s a good policy to only schedule meetings with your own member of Congress. To find your federal representatives’ contact information, please visit the PTA Take Action Center at PTA.org/TakesAction.
At the state level, you can meet with your legislators in-district or in their office at the state capitol. To schedule a visit, you should consult your state legislature’s website to find contact information for your members’ offices.
At the local level, you can ask for a meeting with a superintendent, principal or member of the school board or invite them to attend a PTA meeting. You may need to call the school, school district, or school board offices and/or check their websites to find contact information to request an appointment.
When you call to schedule a meeting with a decisionmaker there are a few things to know.
At the federal level, you can call your member of Congress’ Washington, DC office or their district office. If you are calling the district office, you should ask the scheduler to set up the meeting with the member of Congress while they are in the district. If you are calling the Washington, DC office to set up a meeting on Capitol Hill, you can either ask for the scheduler (if you are requesting a meeting with the member of Congress), or you can ask to be transferred to the Legislative Aide handling the issue you wish to discuss if you’d like to meet with them instead. Try to request a meeting between 8:30 a.m. and 5 p.m.
The process at the state level is like the federal level in that state representatives will likely have an office and some staff at the state capital and a local office. Check out your state legislature’s website for the contact information of your state representatives. If your legislature is in session, you should ask to meet with the member or their staff member. If your state legislative body(ies) are not in session, you may be able to meet directly with the member at their local office or in the district.
At the local level, decisionmakers may not have an office or staff to arrange a meeting. If they do have an office, try calling there to schedule a meeting. If you can’t find contact information for an office, a phone call or an email directly to the decisionmaker you are trying to meet with may be the quickest way to schedule a meeting.
Whenever you call to schedule a meeting with a decisionmaker, make sure to identify who you are, who you represent and who will attend the meeting. Indicate what you want to discuss with the decisionmaker or their staff. It is also extremely helpful to provide background materials in advance of your meeting. Note that some offices will respond more quickly than others. The day before the appointment, make sure to call to confirm your meeting.
Note: If you are a State PTA President or President-Elect, a Federal Legislative Chair or are otherwise representing your entire state PTA, as a representative of a statewide organization you will have an easier time scheduling a meeting even if you do not live in the district the decisionmaker represents. However, your visit will have more of an impact if you include at least one member of a PTA located in the district in the meeting. Additionally, at the federal level, the online meeting request forms located on many members’ websites may automatically flag you as “out of district.” Therefore, it is important that you initiate these meeting requests over the phone or through a direct email with the scheduler.
Do Your Research
Before your meeting, make sure to learn about the decisionmaker you are meeting with, including any positions they’ve taken. If your decisionmaker is an elected official, find out what committees they serve on and how they voted on issues of importance to you. A simple internet search can provide you with information on your elected official’s position, priorities and voting record. Bring local statistics and facts about your state or local PTA’s influence on the issue that you will be discussing during your meeting.
If you are meeting with a decisionmaker at the federal level, you should become familiar with National PTA’s public policy priorities, which can be found in the PTA Public Policy Agenda at PTA.org/Advocacy. The PTA Public Policy Agenda includes research, statistics and rationale supporting its recommendations. Additionally, we encourage you to contact the National PTA Government Affairs staff to assist in providing you with any pertinent information prior to your meeting.
If you are meeting with a decisionmaker at the state level, check with your state PTA to see if they have any relevant position statements or if they support any state legislation relevant to your issue. Reaching out to your state PTA or council/region for guidance can also be helpful at the local level, as well as researching any information on local issues of importance to your school or community.
During Your Visit
It is always a good idea to arrive five minutes early for a meeting with a decisionmaker, and if you happen to be running late, please call the office and let them know. Be patient if the decisionmaker is running late as their schedules are often packed tight.
At the federal or state level, a meeting in the capitol when the legislature is in-session may be cut short for a vote, or a staff member may take over the meeting if the decisionmaker gets called away. If this occurs, continue your meeting with staff and leave behind information about your local programs and National PTA’s Public Policy Agenda.
An in-district meeting with a federal or state-level decisionmaker, or a meeting with a decisionmaker at the local level is less likely to be interrupted, but please be patient if something comes up during your meeting.
State the Purpose of Your Visit
After the initial handshakes and introductions, state that you are a member of PTA, share some demographic information (your state, local PTA name and school), what you want to talk about and why. When advocating for a specific bill at the federal or state level, you should know the title, number and status of the bill. In a direct and polite manner, request the action you would like to be taken on the bill. Remember to be brief and to the point.
At the local level, your meeting might be about a district policy or school board proposal—but the principle remains the same, be prepared with information and make a clear ask for the decisionmaker. Your visit should last about 20 to 30 minutes.
Make it Local
All politics are local. In any meeting with a decisionmaker, be sure to connect the issues you are discussing to what’s happening and the real-world impact in your state, district and/or school. Provide local statistics, facts and stories to illustrate your point. Explain how your community and the policymaker’s constituents are affected and how PTA would like them to address the issue.
Listen, Respond and Don’t Argue
Listen carefully to what the decisionmaker or their staffer has to say and allow them to state their opinion and position on the issue. If the decisionmaker does not agree with your position, don’t argue or make a future enemy. Simply identify issues of concern or differences of opinion and respond based on your knowledge and experience. Remember you are trying to build a relationship, so don’t alienate someone who may be a future supporter.
If you don’t know the answer to a question, just say so and promise to get back to them with an answer. At the federal level, National PTA’s Office of Government Affairs can offer support, if needed. At the state level, your state PTA should be able to provide support. At the local level, reach out to your council, district or regional PTA leadership.
Wrap Up the Meeting
Summarize your key points and positions. Provide and leave behind information that supports your position, fact sheets about the issue and your contact information. Thank the decisionmaker for their time and leave promptly.
After Your Visit
Be sure to send a thank-you email to whomever you met with. Remember that you want to develop and maintain a relationship with the decisionmaker and any relevant staff—so stay in contact, send periodic information and updates, invite them to visit your school or program, and pay attention to any statements or votes they make on issues that are important to you.
Keep National PTA Informed
After you meet with a decisionmaker, let National PTA know how your visit went and where the decisionmaker stood on the issues you discussed. You can do this by submitting a PTA Advocacy Feedback Form at PTA.org/TakesAction under “Surveys.”
This gives National PTA staff in Washington, D.C. additional insight into the positions of decisionmakers and helps us identify strong supporters and those that need additional attention or information, as well as PTA members who have good relationships that can be called upon in the future.
The National PTA put the following information together.
Preparing testimony is similar to writing a paper. There is a specific format to follow that includes opening remarks, a body and conclusion. Credible evidence is required and personal opinions must be eliminated unless specifically asked about.
This guide provides a basic explanation about how to prepare testimony, thus this information is a starting point, as there are various situations, states and legislative committees with different needs. (Download the Advocacy Toolkit here)
- Include your name, title and organization.
- Always thank the committee for the opportunity to speak.
- Clearly state the topic you will be discussing.
- Provide a brief overview of your PTA and why they have a stake in this particular issue.
- Include a one-two sentence thesis statement on what your position is and why.
*Make sure your statements adhere to current PTA positions.
- There is no set limit on length, unless stated otherwise.
- Cover the topic thoroughly and accurately.
- The committee will typically provide you with guidelines ahead of time on what the subject is and what they want you to address.
- Typically, testimony lasts between 5-15 minutes before questions.
- Be sure to provide evidence for your claims; DO NOT simply state your opinion.
- These hearings are to determine the course of law. It is important that the committee and public hear factual accounts of what the legislation would impact.
- Providing evidence gives credibility to your testimony and garners respect for you as a PTA leader.
- Be sure to connect PTA positions and public policy recommendations to the evidence. This allows legislators to clearly see why PTA advocates for the policy position they have taken.
- Briefly recount what you have covered.
- Restate your position and provide a recommendation for action.
- Finish by thanking the committee again.
Questions from the Committee
After your testimony, you will likely have a question and answer session from the committee. Keep the following guidelines in mind when answering questions:
- Do your homework ahead of time. The committee may ask you questions that fall outside the testimony you just gave. Make sure you are prepared to answer questions that pertain to the entire scope of the committee’s hearing.
- Keep answers brief but thorough and stay on topic.
- Stick to the facts; avoid offering an opinion unless directly asked by a committee member to provide one.
- If you do not know the answer to a question, be honest about it. Offer to follow up with the committee once you have obtained an answer. It is better to admit to being unsure about a question than to give false information.
After the Hearing
The committee will likely ask you to submit your testimony and all supplementing materials for the record. Find out how this is done, as the process varies. Sometimes it is submitted to a committee staffer and sometimes the committee has a parliamentarian or legal advisor that takes testimony. Ensure that you are fully aware of the process before leaving the hearing so that you can follow procedure. Make sure your testimony and all supplemental items are neatly typed before submitting and offer your business card or contact information to the committee staff so they can follow up with any questions.
Submitting Testimony without Testifying
Some committees permit organizations to submit testimony even without the invitation to testify. Contact committee staff for guidelines if your PTA is interested in submitting testimony.
Working With the Media
The National PTA put the following information together.
Media relations are more than getting an interview or story in your local newspaper or on your TV, radio, or cable station. Media relations are about external communication to the masses to increase awareness of PTA or PTA’s activities. There are two main aspects to media relations: knowing what is news worthy about what you’re doing and building and leveraging the relationships within media.
A few things you will want to keep in mind when working with members of the media:
- Always read or watch their coverage before reaching out to them. It is important to know what type of stories they tend to cover and it will help you to get a sense of their reporting style.
- Reporters are busy and media resources are dwindling these days. Reporters rely more and more on public relations professionals to give them a complete story with up-to-date facts and statistics that they will not need to double-check.
- Email is your best first approach unless you have a great working relationship with a particular reporter and feel comfortable picking up the phone to call directly.
(Download the guide here.)
Identifying Newsworthy Items Among Your Activities
Consider asking yourself these questions to identify whether your activities are news worthy:
1. Is there timeliness to what you’re doing?
2. Is there something prominent in your activity or event?
3. Are you making a statement on a current hot issue or topic?
4. Are you calling for action on a local issue?
5. Is there a significant human element to your cause?
If you answered yes to at least three of these questions, you may have a story that is news worthy. For example, a general meeting may be listed in the community calendar section or on a community bulletin board, but it will not be considered news. However, if your PTA is addressing an issue of vital interest to the community, such as education funding or curriculum changes, a media outlet may send a reporter or ask for an interview.
Look for Photo Opportunities
If you are hosting an event, ask your local newspaper to send a photographer or send photographs to your local paper immediately after the event. Include captions that describe what is happening in the photo and identify participants. Be sure your photos show action and activity instead of people simply smiling and shaking hands. Always remember to obtain a photo release form for any pictures you plan to share with the media.
Building and Leveraging Media Relationships
Finding the right reporters is critical to getting started with building a contact list. The best way to build a list of local reporters is to first read and watch the news outlets in your market. This will help you identify which reporters are covering specific topics. For example, is there a local news reporter that you have seen cover news of school or education programs? Note his/her name and do a quick scan of the outlet’s website for a phone number or email. This might take a bit of digging and time in the beginning, but you will find that building a targeted media list will be well worth the investment. When you do reach out to a reporter, offer yourself as a contact on education and family articles, and find out if it’s ok for you to send them information on what you’re doing as a PTA leader.
Maintaining good relationships with these reporters will be what helps you place your story. Try to be selective about what you are taking to each reporter. Make sure you are being strategic – there is a fine line between staying on the radar and bombarding contacts with too many non-newsy updates. Reporters appreciate resources – and that means you!
Only pitch stories to them that you know they would have interest in covering. And if they do not cover your story, thank them anyway. Or perhaps point them to another resource where they can get the information they are looking for. They will remember that you helped them and that will make the difference for next time. Similar to building relationships with members of Congress, you need to continue to nourish the relationship even when there isn’t news to share.
To Cultivate Relationships with Members of the Media:
- Invite reporters to coffee or lunch for a background briefing on important PTA issues.
- Welcome reporters to PTA meetings or programs.
- Create an e-mail list of reporters and send monthly or bimonthly items of note.
In the end, they are looking for a resource; someone they can count on, who is reliable, credible, can respond quickly and is trust worthy. Once you have exhibited these traits, the media will trust you and take the news you provide them about your PTA seriously.
Take the time to develop a file of resources. This will help organize the many activities you will undertake. Here are some ideas for how to build this toolbox:
Get to Know PTA
Know PTA’s goals, programs, public policies, and activities on the local, state, and national levels. Familiarize yourself with National PTA resources, such as Our Children Magazine, PTA Takes Action Updates, the Public Policy Agenda, PTA Parent, and www.pta.org.
Determine Who Your Spokesperson Is
Create a list of PTA leaders who can speak for the organization. Make sure that you have the names and telephone numbers of PTA officers. Keep information on your PTA and its activities close at hand.
Develop a Media List
Include reporters’ and editors’ names, addresses, telephone numbers, and e-mail addresses.
This information can be obtained from the outlet’s website or by calling them to find out the appropriate staff member to receive PTA information. Know media deadlines and the reporters who are interested in family involvement and education news. This is where your carefully crafted media list comes into play.
Communicate with PTA PR Contacts
Work closely with your state and council PR chairs. Contact them to find out how they can help you, and get on their mailing lists for PR materials, press releases, and other information.
State PR Chair
He or she can provide valuable insights on handling issues specific to your area or state. Ask about media training opportunities to be held at the state PTA convention or other state resources.
National PTA Headquarters
Contact the Communications department for help in the planning process: (800)307-4782 .
National PTA Website
You’ll find press releases, articles, information, and news on parenting, education, health, and safety issues at the PTA Press Center.
If you bombard the media with letters and press releases about stories that aren’t news, editors may begin to ignore all communications from your PTA.
Pitches and Press Releases
Two fundamental tools you will use to conduct media outreach with are a pitch and a press release. Both are designed to communicate your message to reporters. What is the difference and when do you use one versus the other?
A pitch is a great tool to convince a journalist your story is news-worthy and relevant to his or her audience. It can either supplement a press release or serve as a stand-alone tool. A pitch is less formal and more targeted to a specific reporter than a standard press release. Think of it as a short e-mail to a reporter outlining why your story is of interest to his/her particular beat and audience. Perhaps he/she has covered this issue in the past or could benefit from connecting with you (or another spokesperson) to gain insight, information or news? A pitch is your chance to present yourself as a valuable resource. It should provide a reporter reading it with a quick snapshot of who you are, what your news is and why it is relevant.
A press release is a written, formal statement to the media on behalf of an organization. It typically announces a range of news items, including events, awards, new products, or programs. A press release is useful when there is a milestone event, program launch or other “big” news coming from your PTA that is intended for a broad media audience. It follows a standard format, contains the appropriate contact information and allows a reporter the chance to follow up with you, should he/she be interested in pursuing a story.
All PTAs should send out press releases. How well a press release is written is almost as important as the information it contains. In general, the most important information comes first, with less important details in later paragraphs.
Components of an Effective Press Release
* Deliver key information quickly: who, what, where, when, why and how should be found near the top of the release.
* Keep it short. Use action words and simple sentences with common language.
* Report the facts, not opinions. Avoid editorializing and using adjectives such as “outstanding” or “interesting” when describing programs, events, etc.
* Don’t use titles like Mr., Mrs., Ms., or Miss. Refer to people by their full name on first reference.
* On second mention, refer to people by their last names only.
* Verify your facts. Your credibility depends on the accuracy of the information.
* Check —and then double check—spelling, grammar, and punctuation.
After sending a pitch or a press release, be sure to follow up with the appropriate reporter to ensure they received it and answer any questions they may have.
Some sample press releases are included below. You may visit the Press Center for more.
Op-Eds and Letters to the Editor
Op-ed pieces are written to grab the attention of various groups, including elected officials, business and community leaders and the general public. Write about your PTA’s public policy positions, and submit it as a letter to the editor of your local newspaper, inviting readers to join PTA. Newspaper editors select pieces for publication based on interest to readers, originality of thought, timeliness, freshness of viewpoint, strength of the argument and the writer’s expertise on the issue.
Tips for Writing a Strong Op-Ed:
* Pieces should be about 600-900 words.
* The subject of the piece should be timely and newsworthy.
* Pieces should express a single, clear point of view and be supported by facts and statistics.
* Writing should be powerful and appeal to a general audience.
* Pieces should end leaving a lasting impression and with a clear call to action.
Letters to the editor are another way to reach a large audience. Letters can take a position for or against an issue, simply inform or both. To capture readers’ interest, they can include emotions and/or facts.
Tips for Writing a Strong Letter to the Editor:
* Letters should be short and concise, under 300 words in length.
* Your most important points should be stated in the first paragraph.
* Letters should be relevant and refer to a hot topic, recent event in your community or to a recent article.
* Letters should begin with “To the Editor” and should include your name, title and contact information.
Visit the website for your local newspaper for additional guidelines for writing op-ed pieces and letters to the editor as well as submission information.
Below are some tips for working with broadcast media:
- Prepare your own TV and radio spots about your PTA, if feasible. Many local high schools and colleges can help you with production.
- Ask TV and radio station program directors to identify any upcoming interviews or “talk show” themes where PTA input or participation would be appropriate.
- Submit announcements about upcoming PTA events and meetings to community bulletin boards found on local TV and radio stations, to internet bulletins, and to community websites.
- Cable TV offers opportunities for promoting local groups, programs, and services. Call your local cable company for more information on public access programming and how you can use it for your PTA. Many stations will give up to 30 minutes each month to community service groups.
Where Social Media and PTA Advocacy Collide
The National PTA put the following information together.
Social media is a powerful tool that is changing the way people absorb information, mobilize for advocacy, and raise awareness about issue campaigns. Research shows that more than 90% of people trust peer recommendations, but only 33% trust messages from brands and organizations. This is the power of social media, where networks are comprised of friends, family, community, and connections, which allows organizations to amplify a singular message and spread it quickly. (Download the guide here.)
The social media implication for PTAs at all levels is significant. If people talk and share information about PTA and its issue campaigns, their friends on social media are more likely to respond favorably than they would to a message directly from PTA. PTA units at all levels will benefit from how quickly information can be shared and how much of their followers’ networks can see their posts and activities.
Once you are on a social media site, do not feel compelled to immediately start posting content. If you are unsure of how things work or what sort of content is appropriate for you to post, take some time to get a feel for how the channel works. Monitor comparable users and pages, and discover what you think works well and what does not. A good way to begin putting content out while learning how to use the system is to simply share or repost what National PTA (and/or your state PTA, if you are working with a local unit) has posted. You can “like” National PTA on Facebook and follow us on Twitter for ideas on how to get started!
Speak to your audience. Learn where they are. Are most of your volunteers active on Facebook, Twitter, or both? Each platform appeals to a different audience, so take that into consideration when you are venturing out.
To effectively use and leverage social media, think critically about how you can make your content short, compelling and relevant. Experiment with different types of posts, sometimes sharing links to videos or blogs and using images and video to get a better idea of what resonates with your audience. It’s all about creating engagement and conversation. You want to get people’s attention around a certain issue. Make sure your message is clear when they tune in.
Building PTA Awareness
The social media platforms Facebook and Twitter can serve as “conversation catalysts” for education reform and child advocacy. Simply bringing awareness to PTA efforts is very effective for membership growth, member participation, volunteer development and most importantly, strategically advancing your issue campaign. Experiment with education quotes, education news stories, simple status updates about new initiatives you are working on and sharing/cross-promoting with partners to see what works best for your audience. Don’t be afraid to ask your partners and members to repost or share some of your most successful posts.
Organizations use “pages” on Facebook rather than personal profiles. You can create a page from your personal Facebook account, grant other PTA leaders editorial access to the page and post on behalf of your PTA. On a page, you can post content on a central wall, including photos, questions and surveys, news bulletins, tips and videos, all while interacting directly with commenters. Facebook users have the option to “like” your page, which means that the content you post on your page wall can show up in their news feeds.
Keep these Facebook best practices in mind as you move forward with your advocacy efforts:
- Consider your post frequency. This is a delicate balancing act. Post too little and your posts are unlikely to end up in your fans’ news feeds, but post too much and your fans are likely to “unlike” you. Once your page is up, try to post once or twice a day if possible.
- Develop relationships. Get to know the people who are frequently commenting on the page. Engage in conversation with them by asking questions and responding to posts.
- Find a voice that works for your PTA and use it. You should adopt a voice for your association that allows multiple people to actively respond to comments and concerns in a positive, knowledgeable way while also being consistent in tone.
- Make your page “sticky.” Maximize user experience by making your content more engaging. You want them to stay there as long as they can and enjoy their time on the page. Try to have links back to your website.
Twitter allows users to share short messages up to 140 characters in length. Due to the brevity of its messages, Twitter is an ideal channel to share straightforward information including your advocacy efforts, statistics, event promotion and member recognition. Users can post video footage, images and links to refer Twitter followers to external sites. Twitter is also the preferred channel for sharing live information. For example, participants can tweet throughout a PTA function to give followers updates and quick tidbits of information about the event.
Keep these Twitter best practices in mind as you move forward with your advocacy efforts:
- Respond quickly. Stay current with Twitter mentions and respond to any questions or concerns within two hours.
- Choose who you follow. Follow people who are interested in the same issues as you. You should also follow individuals who actively engage with you, either by retweeting your posts or tweeting at you.
- Build a relationship with users. Be sure to thank people for mentioning you, following you or just comment on something they said that was interesting. If they post interesting content, feel free to retweet it. Generally, people will follow you if you genuinely reach out to them.
- Join the conversation. If people are talking about things that matter to you, feel free to join the conversation!
Dealing with Negative Comments
Negative comments are an inevitable part of social media, especially around issues that people feel passionately about. To be successful on social media, you have to be willing to take the good with the bad and recognize that you cannot control what other users say—you can only control how you react. Engagement is a sign that your campaign is attracting attention and that people are interested in sharing their opinions, both positive and constructive. In many cases, a post that you find disagreeable or contrary to your own opinion may not provide grounds for deletion. If you delete every post that you find objectionable, you may escalate the problem or alienate users on your page. Grounds for deleting a post include: use of profanity or derogatory language, personal insults or disrespectful language against another user or spam or overly solicitous content.
For most comments, it is best to respond in a respectful way and provide accurate information to support your position. Remain calm, judicious and refrain from sharp, heated posts.
Interactions with Elected or Appointed Officials
It is ok to interact with elected officials or members of an executive administration (whether this be at the federal or state level) with regards to legislation. In fact, using your unit or state affiliate’s Facebook and Twitter accounts to reach out to your elected officials to support or oppose legislation is an excellent way to make your voice heard for every child. However, because PTA is a nonprofit organization, you must refrain from interacting with the campaigns of elected officials or repost a message from anyone that has a campaign message for any candidate.
PTA Advocacy Strategy Chart
Advocacy is the cornerstone of PTA’s mission. In order to achieve your advocacy goals at any level, it is important to have a strategic plan. This chart poses the right questions in the right order and serves as a particularly useful tool for group discussions, as it maintains focus to the issue at hand. Use this chart as a guide to developing your strategy and revisit it to check your progress.
Full Advocacy Training Modules through National PTA
The National PTA has worked tirelessly to document its history and continually update training materials, helping us all continue the fight to make every child’s potential a reality. They offer advocacy training modules and a plethora of resources in both English and Spanish.
From the National PTA website:
National PTA was founded by advocates, and has a strong history of impacting education policy and advocating for children. Advocacy is required to achieve success for all children. There are many ways to achieve social change, and all have their uses. PTA and its members utilize different forms of social change in our overall advocacy efforts. PTA’s Advocacy Training focuses on grassroots advocacy and our resources include content and materials that will help any local, district or state PTA build its advocacy capacity by creating a campaign strategy and training leaders and members on key advocacy skills.
PTA resources will allow leaders to:
- Create a cadre of parents that are ready, willing and able to advocate on policy issues;
- Demonstrate PTA’s influence with key stakeholders by PTA becoming a go-to resource for decision-making;
- Strengthen systems and processes to support high-impact advocacy initiatives.
Download the Full Training or each Module Below: