A friendly smile and handshake go a long way in making your state senator or delegate aware of homeschooling success. As a courtesy, call ahead to schedule a meeting time, and prepare a card with your name(s) to leave as a memento of your visit…cookies help, too! For a great idea to introduce your family or group to your representative, make an HSDC card!
Families are also encouraged to attend the legislative session during the day’s event. You can even ask your representative to introduce your family from the chamber floor! Be sure to invite them to attend the rally in the Lower Rotunda and to view the displays located in the Upper Rotunda.
Hesitant about what to say or how to prepare? CHEWV has composed a “cheat sheet” of tips and dos and don’ts so that your legislative interactions are productive and favorable.
Preparation for a meeting with your legislator
⇒ Know the current issues facing homeschooling. CHEWV sends frequent legislative updates. This is a good place to start.
⇒ Know your audience. Do some research about your elected official. What committees does he or she serve on? It’s easy to find this information online here or here.
⇒ Have a specific objective in mind and focus on one issue. What do you want your representative to do? If a group is attending the meeting, be clear on who will lead the conversation.
Dos and Don’ts of Legislative Meetings
DO start by introducing yourself and thanking the person for his or her time. Then, explain why you are there and what it is you want the member to do (e.g. sponsor a bill, support a bill, vote for a bill). Be clear, concise and explicit.
DO keep to the agenda. In order to make sure that all of your key points are made during the limited time you have, it is extremely important that all meeting participants stay “on message.”
DO make your points as personal as possible so that the member or staff understands the impact of a particular position. But be sure to balance the personal elements with the facts.
DO be respectful of the person’s time, as members and staff always have very tight calendars during the legislative session.
DO try to bring written information to your meeting to leave with the member or staff person.
DO bring student artwork or other work to share with the office and/or display in their offices.
DO ask the member to make a commitment. If there is no commitment, let the member or staff know that you will follow up in the near future to find out the member’s position; be sure to follow through.
DO respond honestly if you don’t know the answer to a question. Find out and get back with him or her within the next few days.
DO follow-up by phone or in a letter as the issue or legislation continues to make its way through the process. Always end the meeting with a thank you – if not for their support, for taking the time to meet with you and hear your views.
DO report back to CHEWV any substance from the meeting, especially 1) any commitment made to you, 2) any questions you could not answer, and 3) any concerns expressed by the member or staff that might help CHEWV hone its lobbying effort.
DON’T have too many items on the agenda. Two or three items are enough for the member or staff to digest in one meeting.
DON’T be intimidated by the legislator or staff. You are the expert on this subject; the member and staff are there to be educated by you so that each delegate or senator can make an informed decision about his or her position.
DON’T assume that just because a member has supported you in the past, that he or she will do so this time. Unless he or she commits to supporting you at the beginning of the meeting, always deliver your message as you would with any member or staff.
DON’T be hostile or confrontational with the member or staff. Although the member may oppose you on one issue, he or she may be supportive on others. In addition, any unpleasant encounters may hinder the efforts of homeschoolers for reform.
DON’T stay in a hostile meeting any longer than necessary. Remain professional, answer any questions he or she may have, but try to end the meeting as quickly as possible.
DON’T end your efforts with a legislator once the meeting is concluded. Follow up with him or her in the district.
DO offer to meet again for a more in-depth discussion during legislative breaks and invite him or her to visit your support group. And be sure to follow through, because nurturing a respectful, honest relationship with the member is a longer-term strategy that can pay dividends in the future.