How to advocate with your legislators
"Talk to your legislator" But how?
Your legislators very much want to hear from you!
They need your information to understand how their work will affect their constituents.
So don't be shy. But do be polite.
BEFORE you contact a legislator learn a little about him/her. You can find out who represents you at https://www.oregonlegislature.gov/findyourlegislator/leg-districts.html .
The Legislature's homepage lists every legislator and if you click on their names, you can find their contact information and website.
Usually the website includes a brief biography or statement of purpose and sometimes back issues of newsletters or other information about their activities. Sometimes you can subscribe to receive their newsletters. Legislators may use these to announce town halls and/or other events/activities of interest to their constituents. These websites can also warn you about issues that might be best avoided..... for example, if your legislator is in the business of selling popsicles, you might not want to lead with comments on the danger of consuming sugar.
Try to find some common interests or common ground. Often, but not always, Democratic legislators are more interested in equity issues and Republicans in economic issues. However, education is always a bipartisan issue. Every legislator knows someone who has attended or is attending an Oregon school. Many of them have very close ties to educators and/or school administrators and/or school board members. Some of them even held such positions themselves
Our legislators do need to know what is seriously broken but whenever possible, be positive. ell your own story, but don't bash the many people who are trying their best to educate and support our students--including teachers and parents. Try not to get distracted by topics that aren't directly on point. Focus on how to build a better future, not on a failed past.
These days, most legislators prefer personal emails to mailed letters which can contain noxious substances. However, they are likely to ignore emails that are identical to others and seem to have been generated by someone else. If possible, write a personal letter addressed to each legislator individually.
Do participate when a committee is considering a particular bill of interest to you. If you are interested in learning more about giving written or in-person testimony to a committee, there is a lot of helpful information on the Legislative website at https://www.oregonlegislature.gov/citizen_engagement/Pages/Submit-Exhibits.aspx
You can also subscribe for agenda and other legislative activities here:
Put your request up front AND in your subject line. For example, "Support SB XXX for our students". This helps them find the message when the bill XXX comes up.
You can also call your legislator's office. The number is on the "find your legislator" page. Usually, you will speak to their aides. Be polite. Identify yourself as a constituent (if you are), explain why you are calling, and if possible, ask them to ask their legislator to carry out a specific and practicable action even if it is a stretch. A state legislator can't create world peace, but they can support, oppose or change a state law or rule.
It is --always-- worthwhile building a relationship with your own representatives. Eventually, almost every single Oregon legislator will vote on every single bill that reaches the relevant chamber. However, getting a bill to that destination involves a lot of advocacy.
Your message will be even more effective if :
(1) the legislator already has some connection with you--if you have met them, attended a town hall, share something in common (work in a similar industry, attended the same school/college, had a similar upbringing, share a brother-in-law, assisted in their campaign, or share an experience they can relate to, like sending a child off to kindergarten (if they are parents) or a class full of rowdy teenagers (if both you and they are teachers).
(2) your message is brief and readable
(3) your message is polite
(4) your message includes a topic of interest/concern to that legislator
(5) your message includes a relevant personal experience
(6) your message includes accurate, relevant information.
(7) your message includes your street address
Letters to public officials are public documents. Do not include sensitive personal information such as your child's full name, your social security number or bank account number. At a minimum, any message you send to legislators will be read by their staff.
The most memorable messages by far are those that tell a compelling personal story.
If you don't have a story you want to share, you can begin with a different piece of information such as a news article or a fact.
After your story, explain why the action you seek is connected to your story.
OUTLINE OF A LETTER TO YOUR LEGISLATOR
RE: (state the topic or include the bill number, author and subject if you are writing to support
or oppose a particular legislative bill)
Dear (Representative/Senator) (Last name):
I am a xxxx (introduce yourself) who resides in your district.
(State why you support or oppose the bill or other issue here.
Choose up to three of the
strongest points that support your position and state them clearly.)
(Include a personal story. Explain why the issue is important to you and how it
affects you, your family member and your community.)
(Tell your legislator how you want her or him to vote on this issue)
City, State, Zip code
SAMPLE PHONE SCRIPT
Hello, my name is _____ and I am a (business owner, parent, educator, vampire) in your district. May I please speak to the staff person who handles education in your office?
Reintroduce yourself to the staffer.
I am calling today to ask Congressman/Congresswoman/Senator x to support (bill number and title or funding for relevant topic). This funding will be used for (staff development, technical support, curriculum development, distance learning opportunities, adding additional staff, etc)
Without your help, our gifted students in (Oregon, the US) will not be able to reach their potential in school, college, career or community. This affects our entire community and our economy.
[According to data compiled by Education Northwest, from 2018 to 2020, more than half (58%) of all graduating Oregon students found they had to enroll in a "developmental" (remedial) course during their time in community college or university. However, less than one third (29%) of students who had taken an advanced class in High School were in this situation. http://apps.educationnorthwest.org/or-accelerated-learning-dashboard ]
[According to the 2018 Program for international Student Assessment (PISA), the US ranked 34th. of of 40 participating governments, trailing all participants in Asia and every European participant except Spain, Turkey, and Greece.] https://edadvance.substack.com/p/the-case-for-gifted-education
[your favorite and most salient talking point here]
Include a personal story here.
Increasing access to advanced classes would help all our children be more successful and strengthen our state's/country's economy.
I would appreciate it if Congressman/Congresswoman/Senator ____ would reply to me on this important issue. My phone number is _____________ and/or my email at______________. If Congressman/Congresswoman/Senator _____ has any questions, please do not hesitate to call me
What NOT to say in a phone call or meeting
Do not represent yourself as speaking for an organization without its express permission. Do not try to answer a question when you don't know the answer. Say you will find out and get back to the person asking it. If you provide any facts or figures, check them twice first!
Do not insult or threaten the legislature or the person you are talking to. I once heard someone testifying at a school board hearing refer to the board as "rapists." That is not the way to win support. Be sure to thank anyone you speak to for their time and assistance. Everyone during a session is extremely stressed and busy and often something unexpected will upend a planned meeting/discussion.
I always wince when I hear references to "future leaders," or "the best and the brightest." Our process is set up to identify students who need academic instruction at a faster rate and more advanced level or who are gifted in a particular domain. These students are not "better" than any other student, and not the "best" at many things. Comments like this can lead to accusations of elitism. Focus on the need to provide appropriate instruction for every student and on providing equitable access for all students across our state. If the person you are speaking to uses phrases like that, don't try to correct them. Talking about the economic benefits is fair game, though, because the economic returns to greater educational attainment are well documented.
If the person says something like "all students are gifted" find a way to agree but redirect. You can say, "yes, all students have gifts, but not all students are more than four years ahead of grade level in math." This year, I happen to have three students at that level."
If you have a face-to-face meeting, send a thank-you note.
EXAMPLES OF Emails/letters/MESSAGES: (I made up the details but kept the evidence)
Dear Representative Everybody: firstname.lastname@example.org
[this is a formula for email to any legislator:
email@example.com OR firstname.lastname@example.org]
I am writing as your constituent to ask you to support gifted education in Oregon
Gifted children do not teach themselves. Like all other children they need opportunities to learn and teachers to guide them.
My daughter Matilda is in fifth grade in the Wormwood Elementary school in your district.
According to her assessments she reads at a college level and until this year, she was doing well at school.
Last year she had a wonderful teacher who provided Matilda with engaging literature. She supervised her independent study project on Tom Stoppard's plays which won first prize from the Highfaluting Foundation and the whole school celebrated her accomplishment. Matilda couldn't wait to go to school. She even complained when there was a snow day.
This year, her teacher told us she was too busy helping the other students in the classroom to change anything for one student. She said Matilda would be learning to read Amelia Bedelia with the rest of her class.
Matilda has become very depressed and withdrawn. She has also been suspended twice: for putting a frog in her teacher's coffee mug and writing inappropriate things on the whiteboard.
We feel her teacher needs more training on ways to support gifted children.
In a recent article, the Missenden News explained that there are one million gifted students in the U.S. but most of them are studying material they have already mastered. In fact, a 2014 study of MAP assessments in 33 states found that more than one-third of fifth grade students were a year above the fifth grade level in reading. Scores from the National Assessment of Student Progress (NAEP) showed that one tenth of the fifth-grade students tested scored at the high school level in reading. (see https://thejournal.com/articles/2016/08/23/age-based-grade-level-system-ignores-huge-numbers-of-over-achieving-students.aspx )
These students are in every school district in our state but most Oregon teachers don't know how to provide appropriate instruction for them .
Matilda is one of those students, and she comes home in tears every day.
Your support for better TAG training for our teachers would help students like Matilda to love school again.
Dear Senator Fadiman,
Please support for HB xxxxx
This bill would provide funding for TAG services throughout Oregon enabling districts to purchase assessment instruments, provide professional development to their teachers, and offer high quality curriculum and materials. Today, Oregon provides no state support for these important education components. Washington State, on the other hand, is spending more than $30 million each year for its highly capable program.
My son is highly gifted in math but no adjustments have been made in his school to accommodate his level of learning. He has become disengaged and discouraged. He sits in the back of the classroom and reads comic books. He is currently failing three of his high school courses.
Oregon's economy needs workers who are good at math. It hurts us all when students like my son aren't able to learn at their own level of mastery. Yet according to the 2022 National's Report Card, the performance of Oregon's advanced math students was below the US average.See the state report here:
HB xxxx would provide funding to the Oregon Department of Education so it can hire more TAG specialists to work with districts to improve their services for TAG students. I urge you to support it.
Thank you very much,
Dear Representative Jewls
Please support equitable TAG services in Oregon:
I am the president of the Wayside School PTA and the parent of three identified TAG students. I am writing to ask you to support funding for equitable services for TAG students in Oregon. My sister-in-law lives in another district, and her children have been able to take many courses that are not available where we live. I don't think it is fair that students in one part of our state have better opportunities than students whose parents can't afford to live in a high income district.
According to a 2019 report entitled "Small Town, Big Talent" by the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation, rural students like ours are more likely to graduate from high school but less likely to go to college. As the report pointed out "This disconnect between K-12 achievement and postsecondary achievement further disadvantages communities that are already struggling to attract industry and talent."
In 2020, sixty-three Oregon districts reported that they had not identified a single gifted student. A further forty-two reported having identified students but did not spend anything to support their learning. Together, that is more than half the districts in our state!
Our district is among those that has identified gifted students but has not made any changes in their instruction.
I believe that our Oregon students are as capable as students anywhere in the world. With better access to high-level, rigorous classes they would have a greater opportunity o succeed in college and careers.
Categorical state funding for TAG services would help give every Oregon student a chance to learn.
Mother of three
Dear Senator Fairchild:
Please support access to advanced classes in Oregon
Last year we hosted an exchange student from Pefkakia. We learned that our son, who is a TAG student and is the same age as our guest was more than two years behind him in math and science.
I am very concerned about this situation and I urge you to support categorical TAG funding . This would help to support all Oregon students who need more advanced classes than their high school currently provides. In the long run, it will enable our students to be successful in building Oregon's economy.
Dear Representative Goodenough:
Support HB xxx
I am a fourth grade teacher. This year I have twenty-eight students. Eight of them have IEPs; three of them are newly arrived from overseas and are English Language Learners. The class began with average test scores that were way below state standards. One of our students is living with his mother and two sisters in their car. He kept coming to school late and did not participate in class activities. When I asked the school counselor to assess him she discovered that he was extremely gifted. He has no access to technology outside of school. Despite his reluctance to speak up, he is an avid reader and his understanding of math is way beyond what I am teaching the rest of the class. He needs more help than I have been able to provide for him. Our district TAG coordinator who is also our school principal and district superintendent has no time to work with him either. HB xxx would allocate state funding to our Education Service District that could provide an online program for this student that I could supervise during school hours. It would also enable our district to have access to a trained TAG specialist. Please support HB xxx for the sake of all our students.
Dear Senator Vespugia
Provide categorical funding for TAG
I am a middle school teacher in your district. Every day, I see 137 students for science and another 46 for health. This makes it very difficult to differentiate instruction for my advanced students but there is a small group of students who have already studied high-school physics and need additional science opportunities. I would like to arrange a special project for them to build a tesseract and travel to another planet. We found three volunteers to mentor their project but we needed to obtain some equipment. When I spoke to our principal, Mrs. Jenkins, she said that there was no budget for TAG services or materials. Oregon mandates Talented and Gifted services and I am required to adapt my instruction to provide these students with opportunities at their individual level and rate. If I am required to do this, the state should make it possible for me to obtain the curriculum and materials that are necessary for the work..
Thank you very much,