Effective School Board Trustee Advocates

April 25, 2024  

As the 2023-24 school year nears an end, school boards across Texas are grappling with deficit budgets. School districts are running out of money and tightening their budgets because of double-digit inflation, an increase in unfunded legislative school mandates, and a lack of action taken by the Texas Legislature during the 88th Legislative Session. This means Texas school districts are faced with tough decisions, including teacher layoffs, program cuts, and sometimes, campus closures.

School boards are made up of seven or nine publicly-elected trustees, depending upon the community. They have the “exclusive power and duty to oversee the district management and evaluate the performance of its superintendent,” according to the Texas Education Agency. “The board and the superintendent work together as a team to bring about the best education possible for the students they serve,” according to the agency’s website.

All powers and duties not specifically delegated by state law to TEA or the State Board of Education are reserved for the trustees, the agency noted. 

Trustee Advocates Program

In the run-up to the 89th Legislative Session that starts in January 2025, it’s important for school board members to advocate for public education issues that surface when listening to their local community members.

Raise Your Hand Texas’ Trustee Advocates Program helps school districts accomplish more in each legislative session by equipping them with the tools they need to become advocacy leaders over the course of an 18-month fellowship. Effective advocacy requires building influence and becoming one of the groups to whom a lawmaker feels most accountable.

Community engagement is at the heart of the Trustee Advocates Program. Bringing members of your community into the advocacy process is not an add-on to crafting a legislative agenda or testifying in front of a committee — it’s central to every element of effective advocacy.

By building relationships and trust within their communities, trustees grow the number of informed and engaged public education advocates whose voices are needed to influence legislation.

During the Trustee Advocates Program, participating school districts develop advocacy techniques to engage and activate their local community, encourage electoral engagement, develop legislator relationships, develop issues and campaigns, and create effective communications.

Now as the program launches its second cohort, Raise Your Hand Texas looks back to its biggest successes from the first group of school districts who graduated from the program. Eight districts from the first cohort are now using new techniques to connect with their community, listen to what they say, and engage them in legislative advocacy. They also serve as “conveners” of other districts in their regions and show them how to do the same work.

Carrie Gregory, a Cohort One Graduate and Gregory-Portland ISD Board Vice President shared that Raise Your Hand Texas “not only provides the knowledge you need, they also help guide you through the process to craft a local and state advocacy program that is tailored to your district’s specific needs and designed to serve your district for years to come.”

“Before the Trustee Advocates Program, our board relied heavily on our superintendent to advocate and provide legislative information to us,” Gregory added. “Now, we function as a team and are empowered with the tools needed to increase our presence and amplify our voices at the Capitol.”

Carrie Gregory, Gregory-Portland ISD Board Vice President

Where Texas School Funding Comes From

One of the school board’s priorities is adopting a budget that supports the needs of students, teachers, staff, and community members. But that decision is often hard to make, because education dollars do not go very far.

The Texas Legislature largely determines the amount of funding available to school districts to spend on day-to-day operations. Legislators use a funding formula that provides school districts with general operating funds to cover teacher and staff salaries and other items such as early childhood education.

School districts then have to stretch the education funding they receive from the state to cover large costs such as instruction, teacher salaries, and facility maintenance. Other costs include paying campus and district leadership, nurses and counselors, transportation costs, nutrition, and extracurricular activities.

Running a public school is expensive, and the current funding formula does not take rising inflation into account. School districts across Texas have been left with little room in their budget to trim despite rising operational costs. 

By learning the skills needed to effectively communicate with legislators, school district leaders can help stress the urgency of adequate funding and support for Texas public schools to create a better future for their students and communities.

Resources for Texas School Districts

Raise Your Hand Texas can also support school districts of every size that want to grow their pro-public education advocacy. School board trustees can work with their Regional Advocacy Director to build and customize a program of support for their district. 

School districts can work with Raise Your Hand Texas to plan for a local delegation to visit with their legislators at the Capitol. Districts can also organize teacher visits to the Capitol with Raise Your Hand Texas. 

During the interim and throughout the Legislative Session, Raise Your Hand Texas provides legislative knowledge and independent research that can help inform pro-public education policy priorities. Anyone can sign up for the Across the Lawn newsletter for legislative updates during sessions and Call to Action text alerts.

In August 2024, Raise Your Hand Texas will also hold its 2nd Annual Trustee Advocates Summit, where superintendents and school board trustees can come together in Austin for deeper training and to learn more about advocacy techniques they can take back to their districts and communities. 

Raise Your Hand Texas gives a special thank you to Huckabee for sponsoring the second meeting of the Trustee Advocates Program program. We appreciate your passion to change lives through your craft and a shared contribution to education.

Tags: Advocacy school board school board trustees school districts school funding Trustee Advocates Program trustees

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