How Can I Advocate for Public Education
by Tom Mellish, Executive Director, IRTA | April 4, 2019
Many people want high-quality public education for all, but don't know how to support and advocate for it. Educators, parents, and community members must be empowered to act and speak out for public education.
If you are a school administrator or educator, feel free to share this list on your website, in your classroom newsletters, and on your school's website. By giving specific steps to those who want to help, you can empower others to become advocates of public education.
Here are 10 ways to become an advocate for public education:
1. Get Involved in Your Local Public School System
Getting involved in your public school system is one of the best ways you can begin to advocate for high-quality public education for all. Use your talents and time in a way that matches your personality. You might choose to serve on the school board, or perhaps begin by attending school board meetings and forums that are open to the public.
If you have a child in public school, consider attending PTO meetings, coffee hours with the principal, open houses and events. Get to know others in your school district who are already involved to see how you can help support your school.
2. Join an Advocacy Group
Indiana Retired Teachers Association—retired Hoosier educators or those thinking of retiring can join IRTA to support our efforts advocating for educators in the state.
National Retired Teachers Association—Members of NRTA are dedicated to continuous educational opportunity, advocacy, and service as a means of safeguarding the economic security, work opportunities, and future well-being of all generations. Learn more about AARP's Educator Community here.
National Education Association—The National Education Association is another wonderful resource for advocacy. Consider joining "Raise Your Hand"—a national initiative to mobilize educators, parents, and community leaders who share a commitment to ensuring the success of all students. The website is full of advocacy information, action steps, statistics about public education, and other resources to help you educate yourself and others.
3. Use Tools & Apps to Follow Legislation
Stay informed on legislation (state and federal) that affects educators and public education. One way to do this is through a mobile app called Countable. This app makes it quick and easy to understand the laws Congress is considering. It streamlines the process of contacting your lawmaker, so you can tell them how you want them to vote on bills under consideration. One of the features of the app lets you select which issues are important to you, like Education, Children, or Public Health.
For Hoosiers, follow state legislators and contact representatives through the General Assembly's website.
Listen and subscribe to Indiana EdCast, a weekly podcast where we discuss topics and events that effect Hoosier educators.
Bookmark the NEA's Legislative Action Center website. You can find your elected officials, follow legislative updates, sign up for their newsletter and become a cyber-lobbyist.
4. Have Conversations & Educate Those Around You
If you're passionate about public education, the best thing you can do is to spread that passion to those around you. Engage in conversations in person, at your house of worship, with friends and family, on social media, or on the phone with community leaders. Inform others who may be ignorant of the issues why public education is important for strong communities and a positive future for all.
5. Old-fashioned Letter Writing Campaigns
Perhaps you aren't in a position to march on the streets or attend long town hall meetings. That's OK because there are many ways to advocate from your home. Old-fashioned letter writing is still a powerful tool for making your voice heard. Consider writing a letter to the editor of your local newspaper in support of public education or making the case for any of the important issues surrounding public education.
You can also write letters to leaders in your community, your mayor, faith-leaders, community organizers, school administrations and others, to let them know why you believe public education is important. Get more tips about letter writing here.
6. Contact Your Elected Representatives
Letters, emails and phone calls are effective ways to influence your elected representatives, and to let them know what their constituents want and expect. Learn how to write an effective letter to your legislator here.
You can also visit members of Congress in person and in town hall meetings. Make your voice heard that public education is important to you, their constituent, and to those around you.
7. Advocate for Proper Funding
Time to get specific. Adequate funding is a hot topic when it comes to education. There are many complicated issues surrounding how we fund public education. Educate yourself on issues like performance gaps and equitable funding for at-risk populations. The National Education Association lists these action steps for advocating for school funding:
- Ask your principal if the school has experienced recent budget cuts and how they plan to address them.
- Ask your school board to require reporting on the distribution of state-certified teachers, education support professionals, and specialized support personnel like nurses, psychologists and social workers.
- Ask your school board to require reporting by school on actual student expenditures disaggregated by federal, state and local dollars.
- Ask your school board to require schools to post their budgets online.
- Ask your school principal to hold meetings on the school budget.
- Ask your school board to draft multi-year budgets.
- Ask your state elected officials to implement fiscal policies that provide public schools with stable and sufficient funding annually.
8. Donate to Public School Classroom Projects
Ultimately, we want our public schools to be sufficiently and equitably funded. As it stands now, many classrooms lack the resources they need to provide children with high-quality education. You can help by donating to special projects using a wonderful website called DonorsChoose.org.
It's a website that allows teachers to post their classroom needs, and donors to select the projects and classrooms they want to help. The goal is that all students will have the tools and experiences they need to excel.
9. Support For Educators: Current, Future & Retired
Sadly, 33 percent of new teachers leave the profession within the first three years of employment. In an effort to stem the high attrition levels, retired educators and other community members are encouraged to support new teachers and administrators as they begin their careers. Learn more about NRTA's Educator Support Network here and how you can be a mentor for young teachers.
There are so many ways that you can support active teachers, future educators, and those who have retired after long years of educating our youth. We have a program called A Hand UP Assistance. Our members' contributions provide grants and financial assistance to Hoosier teachers and scholarships to college students who are seeking careers in education. This program provides financial assistance for an immediate need of an IRTA member who is undergoing a temporary or emergency hardship. The help is intended for a one-time, short-term need and not for extended support. Examples of needs include, but are not limited to: housing expenses, health care, transportation, legal assistance, nutrition, etc. Learn more here.
IRTA understands the importance of helping teachers fulfill their classroom missions. That is why we provide assistance through the generosity of our members and partners. If you know of someone in Indiana who would like to apply for an active teacher grant, or you want to learn more about the program, click here.
10. Simply Volunteer Your Time
Whether you are a busy parent, or a retired educator, you can support and advocate for public education by volunteering your time. Schools desperately need parent and community involvement. Tutoring is just one way to give back and help support high-quality education for all. Ask your child's classroom teacher or your local public school how you can volunteer.
Be encouraged by this list of actions you can take to become an advocate! You may feel overwhelmed by the enormous task, but it only takes one step to make a difference. You might set a goal to do just one of these things. That's great! We wish you luck in your efforts to be a voice for children and an advocate for a strong public education system in our country. The work is important.
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