Communicate with Your Elected Officials

Promote legislative advocacy among fellow PTA members by encouraging them to build relationships with state and federal representatives. Begin by identifying the State Senator, Assembly member and Member of Congress who represent your area. Find out more about legislators and their particular areas of interest by visiting their websites; individual websites can be accessed at www.senate.ca.gov or www.assembly.ca.gov, www.house.gov or www.senate.gov.

For local issues, identify the appropriate school board members, city council members, county supervisors and/or county school board representatives that you will need to reach. Contact information may be found in your local telephone directory or on the websites for each local government body.

Visit Your Legislators

Make an appointment to visit your state and federal legislative representatives at least once per year. Call their district offices to find out when they will be available; many state legislators spend Fridays in their district offices. Arrange for a group of PTA members to visit and share information about what is important to students and parents in your area; include students when they are available.

When visiting your elected representative, take the following steps:

  • Schedule an appointment or, if the elected representative is unavailable, arrange a meeting with the aide handling the issue. When making the appointment, specify how much time will be needed.
  • Draft an agenda and be sure to list the issue(s) the PTA wants to discuss. If PTA members are visiting as a group, assign each person a role. For example, one person can open the meeting, another person can be the recorder, someone else can focus the conversation back to the PTA agenda when necessary, and another person can leave literature.
  • Arrive on time for the meeting. Have the group meet together immediately prior to the meeting and then go in together. Once in the meeting, immediately identify yourself and the PTA represented. During the introduction, state the issue(s) of concern. Keep the time frame in mind during the meeting.
  • Be prepared to educate the legislator or aide about PTA’s history and positions. Be open to questions. If you don’t know the answer, politely explain that you will do some additional research and get back to them. Never give false information or assumptions. Personal credibility and the credibility of PTA are on the line.
  • Ask how the legislator will vote on the issue. If the legislator is unable to make a commitment, tactfully state that you would like to know, and that you are willing to call at a later time to learn the decision. If the response is positive, respond, “We appreciate your support.” If the response is negative, ask, “What are your specific objections?”
  • Develop a positive relationship with elected representatives and their staff members. Communication should be a continuing exchange, not sporadic contact. A solid relationship with legislators and their staff members is an important step in building credibility and power for the PTA.

Write Letters

Letters alert elected representatives to PTA’s views. A letter-writing campaign also educates PTA members about the issues and publicizes the association. Begin the campaign by identifying a coordinator, perhaps the legislation chairman or PTA president.

Determine the message. Have sample messages available to members, as well as fact sheets with the PTA position on the issue. When authorized to write on behalf of the PTA, use PTA letterhead. State the case succinctly and accurately, citing the following:

  • Issue and background facts;
  • PTA’s position, and what PTA wants to happen (e.g., change in regulations, new legislation);
  • Number of PTA members the writer represents; and
  • Your involvement with the PTA and, when applicable, your PTA title (e.g., unit, council or district PTA president).
  • Address the letter with proper titles; and
  • Sign your full name and give your complete address, including telephone number.

Send copies of the letter to other contacts, such as key legislative committee and subcommittee members as well as the California State PTA director of legislation and, when writing about issues before Congress, to the National PTA Office of Governmental Relations.

It may also be helpful, in some cases, to send letters to the editors of local newspapers to communicate the PTA position on a particular issue to the broader community. The letter should be submitted on PTA letterhead and signed by the president or legislation chair of the unit, council or district PTA initiating the action.

Addresses of California’s State and National Elected Officials
The Honorable (name)
Governor, State of California
State Capitol
Sacramento, CA 95814

The Honorable (name)
California State Senate
State Capitol
Sacramento, CA 95814

The Honorable (name)
California State Assembly
State Capitol
Sacramento, CA 95814

The Honorable (name)
United States Senator
Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510

The Honorable (name)
United States House of Representatives
House Office Building
Washington, DC 20515

For more tips see Organizing a Letter-Writing Campaign, Fig. A-1

Faxes

For messages that are time sensitive, faxes are a quick, effective method for making a PTA position known in writing. Most legislative offices have publicly listed fax numbers. Refer to “Write Letters” when composing the fax.

Electronic Mail (email)

Email is another way to communicate PTA positions on legislation. Some elected representatives may not accept email attachments. Check with their offices about their email preferences before encouraging your members to email a particular representative. Refer to “Write Letters” when composing email.

Telephone

Phone calls are also an effective communication strategy, particularly when timing is critical. When an elected representative’s support or vote is needed within the next 48 hours, a phone call to the legislator may be the best method of communication. Use the phone to communicate PTA views. Phone the elected representative’s district or Capitol office and request to speak with the member or an aide. Be prepared to:

  • State your name and identify your PTA.
  • Identify the bill number or the issue.
  • State that you are from the legislator’s district, and explain the PTA position on the issue.
  • Ask how the legislator expects to vote.
  • Urge the legislator to vote for the PTA position.

Reaching Your Members

PTA members may receive the California State PTA Legislative Alerts by signing up to receive them at capta.org.

Email distribution lists and telephone trees are effective ways to mobilize many people on a particular issue. When the state president and/or the director of legislation receive information on an important issue, they may pass it on to local legislation chairmen who, in turn, can reach other PTA members in their communities.

Through the use of email distribution lists and telephone trees, within a few hours of a legislative alert or call to action, literally hundreds of letters, postcards, phone calls, faxes or email messages can be on their way to appropriate legislators.

Letters or faxes are best when time permits, but often we must react fast enough for legislators to feel the impact of the PTA lobby within hours.

PTA email distribution lists and telephone trees must only be used to share adopted PTA positions and must never be used in candidate elections.

Establishing an Email Distribution List or Telephone Tree

Email Distribution List – Collect email addresses from members within your PTA who are willing to act. Use these addresses to create an email distribution list. One message can be sent to the entire list, and members can forward it on accordingly. Provide a method for subscribers to unsubscribe from future email alerts if they choose. The legislation chairman and the PTA president are responsible for email accuracy and content. Email legislative alerts or calls to action sent by National PTA or California State PTA can be forwarded without local approval. PTA presidents must approve locally generated legislative emails before distribution to local members.

Telephone Tree – Create a list of names and phone numbers of PTA members within your local area who are willing to take action.

Establish the calling sequence. Select “lead” callers. A lead caller should make no more than five calls.

Last caller in sequence should return a call to a “lead” caller.

If there is no answer after several tries, the caller should go on to next in sequence.

Do not count on answering machines to deliver messages in a timely manner.

Distribute a copy of the entire telephone tree to all involved. Duplicate and distribute legislation materials from the California State PTA, the council (if in council) and district PTA.

Tips on Effective Communication Using Email Distribution Lists and Telephone Trees

Have a system to check the effectiveness of email distribution list or telephone tree communications. Is the list or tree functioning efficiently? Are there problems needing adjustment?

Send emails or make your calls to legislators before using your email distribution list or activating the telephone tree. Your personal experience in communicating the message will alert you to any problems with the way you are presenting the message.

Make a list of “talking points,” messages you want your PTA members to communicate to their legislators. Include bill number, author, subject matter, location of bill in the legislative process and the PTA position.

It is important that the same message is delivered each time.

By using an email distribution list or activating a telephone tree, the PTA unit can dramatically increase the number of contacts with legislators. It is important they hear from PTA. Legislators need to be reminded about priority issues.

Update email distribution list addresses and telephone tree phone numbers frequently. Explore ways to expand your email list.

PTAs are encouraged to explore other media communication tools such as texting, social networking sites or blogging, considering PTA publication guidelines.

Follow-up

Following action on a bill, send the legislator your thanks via email, postal service or fax if the vote or action was favorable, or a polite expression of disappointment if the legislator voted against the PTA position. Appreciation can be expressed in other, more public ways as well, such as writing letters to the editor of the local paper. Keep the PTA name visible.
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