The Future of Advocacy and Governmental Relations
By Shelly Bateman
I joined the Association as the Associate Executive Director of Governmental Relations, in March 2021, mid-legislative session. Talk about a whirlwind! While I established my IASB “sea legs,” I listened, observed, and studied. As a fresh pair of eyes, I offered new and different perspectives, ways of thinking, and a different approach to legislative strategy. Now, a year later, I thought it appropriate to highlight some of the positive changes that have taken place in the IASB Governmental Relations program this year, and what members can look forward to moving ahead.
More than 150,000 bills were introduced in legislative sessions in statehouses across the country in 2021, according to an analysis by FiscalNote. Illinois is among the top five states, introducing the highest number of bills. With thousands of bills introduced each year, prioritization becomes critical. The current political climate in Illinois, the number of IASB Position Statements (150+), and the increasing volume of proposed Positions and Belief Statements present significant challenges for the Association’s advocacy work. The agenda of the Illinois General Assembly is voluminous and prioritizing our legislative agenda has become increasingly important.
Simply stated, prioritizing maximizes impact. It is essential to prioritize legislation so the Association can engage meaningfully on critical issues. Trying to advocate on too many things at once is ineffective; in fact, an organization can lose sight of what it is “for.” It is the desire of the IASB Board of Directors to focus advocacy on a limited number of issues that are the most impactful to the membership, that unite the membership (clear consensus), and that position the Association for legislative success.
Engaging members in the work we do drives meaningful advocacy. An engaged membership means a strong network of advocates and a much easier process for the Association to activate its membership when navigating policy challenges. In January, we launched the IASB Advocacy Ambassador program, a grassroots program designed to build relationships between school board members and state and federal legislators. Advocacy Ambassadors help IASB meet its advocacy goals by sharing personal stories and expertise on policies related to education. Ultimately, we hope to grow and expand the program to have member representation in each legislative district across the state.
Also in January, we launched a series called “Advocacy Fridays,” which takes place the last Friday of each month during session. Advocacy Fridays provide access to special briefings and exclusive information presented by the IASB Governmental Relations staff and guest speakers to help school leaders advocate for public schools at home, in Springfield, and Washington, D.C.
One of the most fulfilling and powerful privileges of membership in IASB is the opportunity to participate in the Resolutions and Delegate Assembly process. Advocacy is a powerful tool that guides our organization towards advances that create lasting, impactful, positive change to further our mission. Advocacy ensures that member voices are heard on issues most important to them. Have you experienced a conversation around the board table discussing legislative requirements and asked, “If only we were able to…” or “Wouldn’t it be great if we didn’t have to…”? Grassroots advocacy often begins when a school board identifies an issue that needs to be resolved or a new idea to be considered and submits a proposed solution to IASB in the form of a resolution.
Over the past year the Association has taken steps to simplify and enhance the Resolutions Process, identify statewide issues that unite our membership, focus and prioritize our legislative work, and set IASB up for legislative success. Following a lengthy meeting of the 2021 Resolutions Committee, the IASB Board of Directors began to discuss a review of the process.The Board convened a committee (the IASB Resolutions and Constitution Review Committee) to examine all aspects of the resolutions process — from submission of proposals through consideration by the Delegate Assembly. The Committee began its work in January and presented Advocacy Core Values to the Board of Directors, which were unanimously approved in March. IASB also consulted a Registered Parliamentarian for guidance on procedures and rules for the Resolutions Committee process as well as the Delegate Assembly meeting. Here are a few highlights of the key changes:
- Advocacy Core Values were developed; and submitted resolutions must be in alignment
- A new, online, electronic submission form for resolutions
- Limit of three Resolutions per submitting district
- The development of procedural rules for the Resolutions Committee meeting in August.
- The IASB Resolutions and Constitution Review Committee also made recommendations for Constitutional changes to the Board of Directors that will be voted upon at the Delegate Assembly in November.