This is the final article in our series for educators who want to advocate for changes in their community, state, and national government in regard to education. This article gives tips on how to affect changes to the law - either by introducing something new or by amending laws that are already in existence.
While some specifics about the processes involved may vary from region to region, there are several things that are part of this process nationwide. We’ve taken those common elements and explored them to find the most essential details for you.
Be Sure You Belong
Unions and educator’s associations should be every single educator’s first stop after getting their certifications. These groups will not only help you navigate what it means to be a teacher, but they will also be with you if you are unfairly treated and represent you if you want to affect change in the educational laws locally, statewide, or nationally.
If you already belong, and you have an item that needs to be changed, call your representatives first. They will help you with the details of what your next steps should be.
Use Your Lobbyist
Lobbyists are professionals who advocate for new laws or changes by amendment. They are there for your access. They meet with you, hear your opinions, requests, or plans for change. You may need to offer them information because lobbyists who are new to the education arena may not know much about the day-to-day classroom experiences.
Once you’ve spoken with them, their job is to search for court cases with precedence, create or pull and review documents that are often referred to as F-I-R-A-Cs, and use that information to influence decision-makers on your behalf.
Lobbyists can be found through a search on your search engine, but you want to find the individual who is most familiar with your type of representation. For example, if you are working in a public school and are advocating for more funding, you wouldn’t necessarily want to go to a lobbyist whose goal is to split public funding and apply it to charter schools.
Physically Show Up
Experts agree that your physical presence is what matters when appealing for changes in the law. Make an appointment with your lobbyist and physically go to your state capital to meet with them in your office.
Having numbers can also be influential, so if at all possible, let teachers around you know that you are going to speak up on everyone’s behalf. There will only be a small group allowed into the office, but having a group outside waiting in the wings to meet with lobbyists and representatives can be very influential.
When you have the lobbyist’s attention during your assigned meeting, don’t hold back. Express your opinion. Offer background information that they may need as a person who isn’t in a classroom all day every day. Contextualize why your request is important, and always be sure to tie in how this change will benefit students.
Just as when you are sharing your thoughts with your principal, superintendent, or board members, don’t just arrive with complaints. Offer solutions. Offer plans. Find things that work in other states, or create your own solutions.
And if you REALLY want to make an impression, bring FIRACs you’ve researched and found on your own.
FIRAC stands for facts, issue, rule, application, and conclusion, and it represents an analytical process used among paralegals. It’s basically a summary of a legal opinion. Paralegals and lawyers in education law (and all other areas of law) use these summaries to help inform and find reasoning to build new laws or amend those that already exist.
Using this method as a guide, you can research cases that pertain to what you are hoping to accomplish and build your argument in such a way that it fits into the “language” your lobbyist can truly appreciate.
The 14th Amendment
This amendment to the U.S. Constitution defines citizenship and protects the rights of citizens, forbidding states to restrict those rights. These rights are fleshed out and include Equal Protection rights, Due Process clauses, and the Right to a Free and Public Education.
We recognize the powerful laws regarding desegregation and providing education through the IDEA, but as educators, we often overlook the fact that we are guaranteed representation and protection for our livelihood under the same part of the 14th Amendment.
Many teachers are too afraid to speak up or advocate for change. New teachers are often just trying to find a footing and don’t know when they are being treated unfairly. Established teachers may be afraid to “rock the boat” or speak out when they see that laws and requirements are being formed that don’t serve teachers or students.
You are the experts. Not only do you have a right to speak up, it is necessary that you do. It is important that you speak up. It is so important that your rights and protection have been provided for.
Educators have far more power than they suppose they do. You, dear teacher, have much more power than you may realize. It is vital for the future of education that we begin to embrace that power and wield it to create the world we know is right for our students.