Best practices for building relationships with your legislators
Winter recess offers an opportunity to connect in person with your representatives
With the 2023 legislative year coming to a close, state Senators and Assemblymembers as well as California Congressional representatives will be in their districts for the long winter recess. This time offers a valuable opportunity for local education leaders to connect with their representatives and build relationships that will strengthen their advocacy year-round.
Getting started
School board members are critical spokespersons for public education, offering a vital connection to how state and federal policies play out in the real world. Board members are the best spokespeople for their district and county programs and can provide context and information that is specific to their communities — a perspective elected leaders might not otherwise hear. And most importantly, if trustees don’t advocate for solutions, other voices will step in to provide solutions, oftentimes not reflective of the important perspective board members can provide. Being proactive and making your voice heard is an effective way to fight for policies that work best for your local educational agency’s schools and students.

Here to help on this journey are CSBA’s 16 regional PACERs (Public Affairs and Community Engagement Representatives), who are your district’s CSBA liaisons, who, along with CSBA’s Regional Directors, serve as your connection to CSBA advocacy, services and other supportive programs. PACERs are the linchpin to establishing relationships and facilitating local and regional outreach and advocacy efforts.

When it comes to advocacy, PACERs can help identify which legislators represent your district, connect you with federal and state legislative staff who cover education, set up meetings and site visits, provide guidance on how to make the most of your time with lawmakers and more. They are there to facilitate relationships between school board members and their elected representatives and help raise your profile and spheres of influence. If you’re new to advocacy (or even if you’re not), connecting with your local PACER is the best place to start.

Central Coast Region PACER Rachel Wells encourages anyone who is interested to reach out. “PACERs are here to empower you with the skills to advocate for legislation that will benefit your district, and to help demystify the process and give you more confidence as advocates,” she said, “Advocating before your elected officials can be an intimidating and confusing experience, and as a PACER, I can help you turn your advocacy into an empowering and productive experience.”

Building strong relationships
The legislative recess, which typically runs from September to December (October to December at the federal level), offers expanded opportunities to connect with lawmakers and is a valuable time to build on your existing relationships and forge new connections with legislators and their staff. Schedules can fill up fast, so reach out to their office early or work with your PACER to set up a time to introduce yourself and your colleagues or reconnect with members and staff you already know. Remember, although you are their constituent, they are also yours. This can also be a great time to coordinate site visits to highlight programs and provide real-world examples to issues that matter to your district.
woman smiling and reaching her hand out for a handshake
“PACERs are here to empower you with the skills to advocate for legislation that will benefit your district, and to help demystify the process and give you more confidence as advocates.”
Rachel Wells, Central Coast Region PACER
Once a meeting is set, make the most of your time with these best practices:

  • Know your audience: Keep your representative’s committee assignments and areas of influence in mind and craft your talking points and asks accordingly.
  • Be prepared: Make sure you understand the issues well and be prepared to present your case. Fact sheets, research, real life anecdotes and examples to illustrate the issues; support letters and testimonials; and board resolutions can all help you make your case and establish you as a resource for legislators and their staff.
  • Be ready to offer potential solutions: Offer practical solutions you want to see and make sure the solutions you suggest in your meeting are realistic and applicable on a statewide level. Reach out to your PACER and CSBA’s Governmental Relations staff for assistance with your approach.
  • Be a resource: Prepare resources to leave behind so staff can easily access the information you’re sharing after the meeting ends. Providing a real-life example or narrative can help a legislator push for your ask, and establishing yourself as a resource now will help build your influence in the future.
  • Lay the foundation: Build relationships by showing off some of your programs. Making a phone call later to influence a vote will be easier if your representatives have already toured your programs and discussed the successes and needs of your LEA.
Making it count with year-round advocacy
When the legislative recess ends, these strong foundations don’t have to. The relationships built with legislators and their staff can fuel year-round advocacy. It’s important to build on those relationships throughout the year by continuing to remain in touch and by taking advantage of the advocacy opportunities CSBA offers.

Sign up for advocacy alerts from CSBA (text CSBA4kids to 52886 to join) to receive a call to action when your voice is needed to support or oppose the most important bills being considered.

CSBA also offers two annual lobby events every spring, the state-level Legislative Action Week and the federal Coast2Coast trip to Washington, D.C., as well as budget and issue-based meetings throughout the legislative year. These events offer formal opportunities for hundreds of board members to bring their voices to decision-makers at the state and federal level and make what 2023 Legislative Action Week participant Marcy Masumoto, Fresno County Office of Education board member and CSBA Region 10 Delegate, called a “collective impact on the budget and legislative policies that affect every student in California.”

The experience and knowledge of local education leaders are a vital part of the policymaking process. Strengthening these relationships with lawmakers at the state and federal level now and throughout the year will lay a foundation to ensure the local voice is heard loud and clear in the halls of power.