Legislative Advocacy

 

State and federal laws that affect public school funding and operations are constantly changing due to legislation being passed at both the state and national levels.  It is important that educators, school board members and the public get involved in the legislative process to ensure that lawmakers understand how current and proposed legislation affects local schools.

The Arkansas 90th General Assembly was an active one in terms of education legislation.  The links below will help you gain more information on specific legislation and proposed legislation we saw in the 2015 Regular Legislative Session. We often see versions of failed legislation from a previous session return in the next session.

The Arkansas School Board Association’s (ASBA) Legislative Team is active during sessions of the Arkansas General Assembly, as well as when lawmakers are not in session.  ASBA is called on to provide testimony about education issues and develops information to share about proposed legislation.  The ASBA Legislative Team also works together to develop proposed legislation designed to benefit the children served by the many public schools in Arkansas.  Learn more about the ASBA Legislative Team’s work by clicking the "Legislative Team" tab near the top of this page.

School board members have an important role in the legislative process. Members of the legislature who live in your local community should be invited to schools and advised of the local impact of proposed school laws and rules.  In addition, boards can be assured that they always have a voice on important legislative matters by selecting a board member to serve as the Legislative Advocate for the district.

School board members can help their districts by building collaborative relationships with their legislators. There are many ways to do this:

  • Invite them to your school and to a board meeting. Show them the good things that are happening in your schools. Explain challenges your district faces and show them areas where your district needs additional support. Don’t wait until the legislature is in session to invite them to your district – they probably won’t have time then to visit.
  • Explain how proposed legislation would affect your district. Give actual data and reasons specific to your district. Give them a reason they should support or oppose the bill. Tell them about any unintended consequences you perceive to be in a bill.
  • Offer to be a source of reliable information or a sounding board for the legislator on education-related bills.
  • Acknowledge and thank legislators when they vote on a bill in the way you have requested.
  • Communicate both the positive and negative aspects of a bill.
  • Counter half truths and inaccurate information with facts.
  • Treat legislators with respect, and remember to disagree agreeably.

During a legislative session, check the ASBA website frequently. This will help you keep up with education bills so you can speak to your legislators about those that are not in the best interest of your district or those that you support.

Legislators typically have specific areas of expertise and interest. As an education proponent, give them specific reasons, real-world examples and statistics that they can use when they discuss the bill with others.

It’s helpful to understand the data overload legislators face during a session. While those of us in the education community can focus our attention on education bills, legislators ultimately are responsible for voting on every bill.

The sheer volume and variety of material they must know well enough to cast an informed vote is daunting. On average, about 3,000 bills are files each session. Many bills get changed (amended) during the process of debate, often more than once. Each amendment can change important aspects of a bill or even the whole bill.

Regardless of how conscientious and dedicated legislators are, it is a challenge to know the full effects of each bill. They often rely on others to educate them about a bill. Your informed comments about pending legislation can have a real impact.

ASBA staff comprise the Legislative Team, or “The Leg Team” informally, which is active all year, every year. With the passage of Amendment 86 in 2008, the legislature meets every year. Sessions in odd numbered years are for a minimum of sixty (60) days and address all issues affecting the state. Sessions occurring in even numbered years are for a minimum of thirty (30) days and are designed to address only appropriation bills, although a 2/3 vote of the legislature allows it to consider other issues of its choosing.

Additionally, many meetings occur while the legislature is not in session (interim meetings) to examine issues that are referred from the previous session, are ongoing and need continued discussion or are emerging and time sensitive.

The discussions at interim legislative committee meetings generally are more informative, congenial and thorough in nature than meetings during the heat of a legislative session. Committees often invite expert witnesses, including ASBA staff, to testify to help legislators understand the intricacies of the issues.

Members of the ASBA Leg Team attend these committee meetings to stay on top of the issues, to discuss the issues and to build relationships with legislators. Advocating for public education requires the ASBA Leg Team to keep up with emerging and ongoing issues so that ASBA remains a reliable source of accurate information for school board members and for legislators. ASBA staff members:

  • Read and research documents and data related to current and proposed education issues.
  • Attend meetings and conferences.
  • Talk with and listen to board members, educators and legislators.
  • Prepare written testimony for the House and Senate Interim Education Committees (which serve while the legislature is not in session) on topics of the committee’s choosing.

Legislative sessions are very hectic and fluid. Bills can go from stalled to awaiting the governor’s signature in a hurry, and it can be difficult to affect a bill once it has momentum. During a session, the Leg Team is at the Capitol visiting with legislators about specific bills or issues, attending committee meetings and testifying on bills brought before the committees.

ASBA asks each school board to select a member to serve as their Legislative liaison.  That advocate is tasked with keeping the local board informed of legislative activity and communicating issues of importance to legislators.   During the legislative sessions, ASBA sends out regular Legislative Updates to the Legislative liaisons about hot topic bills that need the attention of school board members and district administrators. If a bill is particularly urgent, ASBA issues a Call to Action to all members and recommends that they contact their legislators to express concern or support and to explain how the bill would affect their local district. Additionally, ASBA will include Calls to Action on the home page of the ASBA website during legislative sessions.

Each day during a session, the Leg Team identifies which bills apply to K-12 education and then reads those to develop our positions. ASBA’s legislative team uses three criteria or filters as we study and develop our position on each education-related bill:

  • Is it good for children?
  • Will it help to build an education ethic in Arkansas?
  • Is everyone held appropriately accountable?

The sheer volume of bills (an average of about 3,000 bills each of the last few regular sessions) is a challenge. Many bills are amended during a session, and it’s necessary to follow the amendments to determine how they affect the bills. After reading and analyzing a bill, ASBA posts it on the Bill Tracker (linked during the legislative session). ASBA may note specific issues of concern about a bill on the Bill Tracker. Use the Tracker as your source to monitor the introduction and movement of bills during legislative sessions. Combining your efforts locally with ASBA’s efforts at the Capitol, we can make a difference in education legislation in Arkansas.