Trustee Advocates Program Provides In-Depth Training with Legislators

January 26, 2023  

This month, Raise Your Hand Texas welcomed the inaugural cohort of its Trustee Advocates Program to the Texas Capitol for some hands-on advocacy training in preparation for the 88th Texas State Legislature. The Trustee Advocates Program aims to help school board members and superintendents create teams of local public education advocates who are ready to engage in state-level education advocacy by providing expert training, experiential learning, and in-district support.

As part of the fourth session of the program participants spent a day at the Capitol meeting with their respective state representatives and senators, participating in panel discussions on the legislative process, and participating in testimony training, which culminated in a mock committee hearing. 

(L to R) Rep. Gina Hinojosa, Rep. Jeff Leach, Moak Casey’s David Anderson, Rep. Gary VanDeaver, and Rep. Donna Howard participated in a discussion panel on public testimony for the Trustee Advocates Program.

“Raise Your Hand Texas created the Trustee Advocates Program because school boards provide important oversight over public education as a form of citizen governance,” said Missy Bender, Raise Your Hand Texas’ Trustee in Residence and Regional Advocacy Director for Collin and Denton Counties. “The perspective they provide from their communities is vital to ensuring our state policymakers are aware of the issues in public education, and how policies implemented at the Capitol directly impact our schools.

“Every community, regardless of size or location within Texas, has a voice to use,” Bender said. “Encouraging them to use their voices in their community and at the Capitol will bring greater benefits to Texas public schools.”

Superintendents, Trustees Learn About Advocating Successfully at Capitol

The Trustee Advocates program gives Texas school boards and their superintendents tools to discover, utilize, and amplify their voices and the voices of communities to influence state education policy. Over an 18-month fellowship, Trustee Advocates learn to build a local public education advocacy network that encourages community connectedness and influences public education state legislative outcomes. 

“The biggest takeaway for our team so far is realizing how powerful our voice can be when we find common issues and work together with our legislators,” said Lake Worth ISD Superintendent Rose Mary Neshyba. “Through the Raise Your Hand Texas Trustee Advocates Program, we are creating institutional knowledge for our ‘Team of Eight’ and also learning to build a culture of advocacy within our district and our community.”

A group of state representatives with a passion for public education spoke with program participants and provided insight into what resonates with legislators when constituents testify during committee hearings. The representatives made it clear that committee members want to hear from their constituents during hearings and weigh those testimonies carefully when making decisions. 

Rep. Jeff Leach, R-Allen, shared the importance for school leaders to represent their communities in the process, as it can shed light on issues and make legislators more aware of how issues are impacting those affected by policies.

Staff members from Raise Your Hand Texas lead a mock committee hearing.
Staff members from Raise Your Hand Texas guided participants of the Trustee Advocates Program through a mock committee hearing as part of their training.

“What happens in this room matters greatly,” Leach said. “The Texas House works, and works well. This is the people’s house. When you’re here testifying, what you say to us matters greatly. Tell us what’s happening in your district. It makes a huge difference when it comes time to go to the floor and take a vote on something.”

The type of feedback constituents provide goes a long way with the Legislature as well. Reciting statistics and data to the committee does not resonate as strongly as how that data can directly impact schools.

“I think stories impact us. We have hearts, too,” said Rep. Gina Hinojosa – D, Austin. “To hear your stories and how it actually impacts you is important.”

And when students take the time to testify on behalf of themselves and their fellow students, more weight can be given to the issue at-hand.

“It gets our attention when young people speak up,” said Rep. Donna Howard – D, Austin. “We like to see them participating in civic engagement.”

Raise Your Hand Texas guide participants of the Trustee Advocates Program through a mock committee hearing.
Staff members from Raise Your Hand Texas guided participants of the Trustee Advocates Program through a mock committee hearing as part of their training.

After hearing from a handful of their elected state representatives, the trustees learned important lessons from leaders of various education organizations regarding the ins and outs of testifying in front of legislative committees. Then, trustees and superintendents broke into groups to prepare mock testimony, even going through the process of registering to testify in order to familiarize themselves with all the required steps of providing testimony. The registration process was important to practice because it is a requirement to testify, and creates a permanent record of those wishing to testify, the organization they represent, and the position they take on the bill.

Following the mock hearing, participants conducted advocacy-focused office visits to their respective state senators and representatives.

The Raise Your Hand Texas Trustee Advocates Program consists of six training sessions over 18 months. The initial session was held onsite locally for each participating ISD, and attendance included the full school board and superintendent. Following sessions are held over two days in Austin for the superintendent and up to three (3) school board members. All of the work is issue-based, non-partisan, and held in accordance with the Open Meetings Act. Participants also receive credit for their hours in training thanks to Raise Your Hand Texas Trustee in Residence Missy Bender’s status as a Texas Education Agency-registered provider of continuing education.

Participants of the Trustee Advocates Program graduate in April 2023 after a self-guided session focused on implementing the strategies and knowledge learned over the course of the program, including meeting with legislators to advocate for their school districts. During the final session in June, each school district will develop its own plan to embed advocacy into their ongoing work.

Inaugural Trustee Advocates Program Cohort One

Tags: Advocacy Trustee Advocates Program

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