Advancing Our Advocacy Efforts Together

Lon Garrison, Executive Director, AASB

The upcoming legislative session of the 33rd Alaska Legislature will be the most critical and consequential session public school advocates have ever faced. With the release of the Governor’s budget and the recent comments of DEED Commissioner Bishop, we now know that they are truly opposed to increasing the Base Student Allocation (BSA) as a fundamental way to support the local implementation of public education. Our mission, together as an association and you individually as school boards and communities, is to convince the Legislature, the Governor, and the Commissioner otherwise.

How can we accomplish this and hope to overcome what may seem like impossible odds? AASB is working hard to advance your priorities and help prepare you as advocates for your districts.  Let me share with you what AASB has planned.

The AASB advocacy team has been working since early fall to create a strategy, build relationships, and connect with other public education advocates to develop and support a unified message supporting a BSA increase and additional education funding opportunities. AASB has been busy meeting with many legislators and staff prior to the start of the session.

Designate your legislative advocates. AASB has asked each board to designate one or two board members to be their primary legislative advocates. Through continual and focused involvement, your board can develop stronger relationships with legislators, other school board member advocates, and your local stakeholders. AASB will be asking for school board members to visit the Capitol throughout the legislative session. We aim to have school board members in the Capitol and meet with legislators nearly every week of the session.

Attend events advancing advocacy. AASB is holding events, board academies, webinars, and meetings with legislators to help prepare you to advocate effectively. Your boards must be represented so that a comprehensive representation of the needs for public education is presented, as well as your examples.

Here are the upcoming important events:

  • AASB Law & Policy Day #2 – Following up on the Adequacy of Education Funding – February 9th, Juneau
  • AASB Legislative Fly-in – February 10-13 in Juneau will focus on advocacy training, reviewing the legislation, and understanding the context of what is happening in the Capitol. February 12 & 13 are committed to meetings with legislators – start making appointments NOW!
  • Follow-up advocacy trips to Juneau. AASB will work to find an opportunity to bring a couple of board members to Juneau each week.  We will use this technique rather than hosting a second legislative fly-in.

Written and oral testimony. AASB is here to support and facilitate your written or verbal testimony. Engaging and compelling your parents and community members to testify is crucially important.

Participate in AASB Connect and stay connected! This is an opportunity to communicate amongst ourselves about our collective advocacy efforts. I will briefly summarize what happened each Friday afternoon, along with suggestions for focus in the following week. It will not replace The Session newsletter, which will still provide in-depth and comprehensive coverage for which it is well known.

To wrap up, the following is a partial list of techniques and tasks commonly identified that can help us become more effective advocates.  Give some thought and begin preparing now.

  1. Research and Data Analysis: Gather comprehensive data and conduct thorough research to support your cause.  Compile statistics, case studies, and reports showcasing the correlation between increased education funding and improved student outcomes.  Highlight the specific needs of schools, including infrastructure deficiencies, teacher shortages, or outdated resources.
  2. Coalition Building: Creation or involvement in local coalitions comprising educators, parents, students, community leaders, and other stakeholders who share the same goal.  A unified voice carries more weight and can exert greater influence on legislators.
  3. Relationship Building: Cultivate relationships with legislators and their staff members.  Attend community meetings, educational forums, or other public events where lawmakers are present, or you have the opportunity to engage your stakeholders.  Personal connections can help you present your case more effectively and increase the likelihood of support.
  4. Messaging and Framing: Craft a compelling narrative emphasizing the broader societal benefits of investing in education.  Emphasize how increased funding can lead to improved student outcomes, a stronger economy, reduced crime rates, and enhanced community well-being.  Tailor your message to resonate with the legislators’ and their constituents’ values and priorities.
  5. Media Outreach: Leverage various media platforms to raise awareness and garner public support.  Write op-eds, letters to the editor, or press releases highlighting the importance of adequate education funding and its effect on student outcomes.  Collaborate with journalists to feature stories that illustrate the impact of insufficient funding on schools and students.
  6. Legislative Testimony and Public Hearings: Participate in public hearings or legislative sessions to provide testimony on the significance of increased education funding.  Prepare compelling arguments backed by data and personal anecdotes to sway lawmakers’ opinions.
  7. Continuous Advocacy and Persistence: Recognize that advocating for legislative change is often a prolonged process.  Stay persistent and maintain consistent pressure on legislators.  Follow up regularly, provide updates, and adapt your strategies based on the evolving political landscape.
  8. Recognition and Appreciation: Acknowledge and appreciate legislators who support increased education funding.  Publicly recognize their efforts through letters of appreciation, social media acknowledgments, or community events to reinforce positive behavior.

For some inexplicable reason, public education investment has chronically languished, resulting in our students and communities suffering a continual loss of future opportunities. Commissioner Bishop has frequently stated that increased education funding through the BSA has an “opportunity cost” for other state programs and priorities. I assert that the “opportunity cost” to Alaska’s children should be the state’s top priority. Those who drafted Alaska’s Constitution saw that and thus included it as a necessity.  

We have a big job ahead of us this session. In my opinion, it is the most important legislative session we have ever faced. Alaska’s prosperity and future success are absolutely at risk. AASB is ready to help you, your students, parents, and stakeholders make that message clear.

Have a wonderful holiday season, and thanks to each of you for serving Alaska students.

Lon Garrison

AASB Executive Director.