Many state legislatures across the nation have convened for their annual legislative session. A handful, including Texas, hold regular sessions every two years and are in the midst of their off-session year. Yet for many states, what is typically a three to four-month “sprint” to consider thousands of bills is underway. Constituents, lobbyists, industry professionals, and other interest groups have flooded the halls of state capitols to advocate for changes to the law that will support their particular field or industry. For a lot of these individuals, it will be the first time they have visited with or even met their lawmaker to present the proposed change to the law. Unfortunately for them, this strategy will most certainly result in an unsuccessful outcome, as legislative proposals ready for “prime time” are those that have been proactively vetted and negotiated by all affected stakeholders well before the legislature gaveled in for a session.
As a public education leader, I have always been surprised – and equally disappointed – with how hesitant many superintendents are to engage their elected leaders on a full-time basis. Instead, many wait until they receive notification of problematic legislation from their industry association to engage with their state senator or state representative. As a superintendent, the first conversation you have with your lawmaker should not be, “Hello, nice to meet you. I’m here to discuss potential challenges with your bill.” In my previous school district, my leadership team and I were very intentional about getting to know our state legislative delegation, meeting with them during the off-cycle and proactively sharing thoughts, input, suggested changes to the law, as well as concerns with how the state’s method of funding public schools impacted our budget. We had identified a handful of changes that were enacted before my arrival that negatively impacted our district. When we spoke with our legislators, we quickly learned that the negative impact was unintentional on their part. They were simply never made aware of the issues. We changed that dynamic for our district.
Here is my call to action for superintendents across the nation… Build relationships with your local state elected leaders and engage with them even when they are not in session. When they aren’t at the capitol, invite them in to visit your schools to show them the amazing things happening. Share your challenges, offer reasonable solutions, and commit to being a resource for them. A goal for you as a superintendent should include being one of the first calls your lawmaker makes when an education-related bill crosses their desk. The next legislative session begins the day after the previous one ends, and a legislature should never be treated as “part-time”. Superintendents will achieve much greater success by working with their legislators year-round – not just during the session.