How to Contact Your Legislators
How to Contact Your Legislators
Contacting your legislators is an important part of homeschool reform. In many cases lawmakers may not be aware of this issue, or of the concerns involved. You can create change by reaching out to your legislators and providing them with the information and insight they need to get started on this issue. We will explain how to prepare yourself for contacting your lawmakers, how to find and contact your lawmakers, and what to say when reaching out.
Know the Issues
It is possible that your legislator or their staff may know less about home education and related policies than you do. They may want to ask you follow up questions about the bill you are asking them to support or oppose, or about the current laws and regulations regarding homeschooling, or for specific examples of abuses that support your concerns about the current level of oversight. You can use the following resources to prepare for your conversation, or share them with the legislator or staff member.
- Browse our “Share the Word” page for homeschool issues and how to talk about them.
- Our Legislative Handout can be printed and handed to your legislator or their staff during or following a meeting, folded into a letter, sent as an email attachment, or you can simply use it as your guide through a conversation.
- A directory of documented victims of homeschool abuse is available on Homeschooling’s Invisible Children, and cases can be searched by state.
Know the Bills
- Open States has a tool that lets you search bills by state legislature so you can see if your state has any active bills that affect homeschooling.
- If Open States doesn’t have an up-to-date feed for your state, you can still look up what’s happening. States keep searchable registries of all past and active legislation. You can use these to learn about any homeschool legislation in your state.
- You can find the website for your state legislature on an internet search engine, using your state’s name and the words “state legislature” as keywords. Next, look for a tab reading “legislation” or a similar term.
- You can normally use their database to search for legislation that contains phrases like “home education” or “homeschooling.” Remember that your state may use different terminology, such as “home study.” You can also browse bills that originated in committees such as education or children and families.
- If you are reaching out about a particular bill, know where the bill is in the process. Legislative processes vary by state, but generally, if a bill is in one chamber of your legislature, you want to contact your member in that chamber. For example, if your bill is currently in your state senate, it is more effective to contact your state senator than your state representative. If it is in a committee on which your legislator does not sit, you want to ask that they urge their colleagues to hold a committee vote, and let them know how you expect them to vote if it makes it to their chamber floor.
Find Your Legislators
Open States will let you search for your state senator and representative, find their contact information, see what committees they serve on, and what bills they’ve sponsored. You might also want to do a quick internet search to find their official and campaign pages and a bio. Knowing the personal and professional background of your legislator can help you frame your communication to appeal to their interests.
The website for your state legislature should also have a tool to search by zip code or address to find your legislators. From there, you can use their member page on the state website to get updated information about their bills and committee memberships. Some members will also include information about their district on their page; it is useful to read how your elected official talks about your district as it shows their priorities.
The contact information that you need to make a call, write a letter, or schedule a meeting should be available either on Open States or the legislator’s state website. You will want to make sure that you are contacting that legislator at their official address, email address, or phone number rather than that of their campaign. This information is typically easy to distinguish; the address will be at your state capitol rather than in your district, the phone number will have the area code of your state capitol region, and the email address will end in .gov or otherwise indicate association with the legislature of your state.
Make a Phone Call
Calls are a great option if there is active legislation in your state that you want your legislator to co-sponsor, support, or oppose. A member of their staff will most likely be answering the phone, and their job is to get your message to your legislator. You can also call to ask for more information about a piece of legislation. Bill language can be full of jargon and difficult to understand, so legislative staff are used to doing research on behalf of constituents and answering questions.
Some tips for navigating a call to your legislator:
- Keep it as brief as possible. This doesn’t mean that you need to cut the call short, especially if you’re trying to get information. Just remember that you are one of many constituents and the staff member or legislator you are talking to is busy during legislative session. This is why, if you are trying to tell your story or provide thorough background information, it might be a better idea to write a letter.
- Only your legislators are interested in your opinion. You can call other legislators (such as the sponsor of a particular bill, or leadership in your state legislature) for purposes of gathering information. However, only your legislator is interested in your input, and they have the ability to share the information you give them with other legislators if they find it appropriate and useful. Constituent stories are often brought up in committee hearings or floor debates.
- Make sure the person on the phone knows you are a constituent. You can open by saying “I’m a constituent,” or the staff member may ask you for information such as your zip code or your address. Though you may want to conceal that information for your privacy, it’s important that the staff member can verify that you live in the district.
Write a Letter
Letters are a good way to make sure that all of the details you want to provide are on record with your legislator’s office. In a phone call or meeting, the staff or legislator will be taking their own notes and may not write down something that you believe to be important. You can send a letter by postal mail or email. Most legislators try to provide a response from their office when they receive written correspondence. Additionally, if sharing your particular story or those of others is emotionally overwhelming for you, writing a letter gives you the freedom to take as much time as you need to make your case.
Tips for writing letters to your legislator:
- Like in a phone call, remind your legislator that you are a constituent.
- Write the most important points first. You may also want to include attachments that provide background on the issue or relevant statistics to back up the points you make in your letter. Just remember that whoever receives your letter may not read the whole thing and by being concise, direct, and focusing on one issue at a time you increase the chances of your message getting to them. Don’t flood the office with paper. Similarly, don’t include an overwhelming number of attachments or links if you write by email.
- Make sure your letter has a specific request. Also, keep your request reasonable. If your legislator has no background in education, it is unlikely that they will draft homeschool legislation because they received one letter on the topic. However, they might take an opportunity to learn more about the issue by reviewing any materials you sent, watch for homeschool-related legislation in their chamber, or bring up homeschool policies in relevant committees or conversations with certain colleagues.
- Offer to be a resource to them. If you are willing to talk more to your legislator or their staff about your experiences or have a more detailed discussion about the issues, let them know that.
Schedule a Meeting
There may be times when speaking directly to your state legislator is most productive. Pending legislation may be at a critical point, or you might need to hear a stance on your issue directly from them. The good news is that state legislators tend to be more accessible than those at the federal level. Ideal meetings would be at your state capitol, but that may be a long or expensive trip. When you call to schedule a meeting you can ask if your legislator has a district office where you can meet, if they have scheduled an upcoming town hall, or if they’re willing to schedule an in-district meeting with you.
At times, your legislator may still be unable to meet with you. Legislative sessions are always busy. Urgent, unplanned meetings and lengthy floor debates or committee hearings are a common occurrence. Meeting with a staff member may still serve your purposes, as you can get their undivided attention and share physical copies of any relevant information or data.
Some tips for meeting with your legislator or their staff:
- Know what you want. Your meeting should include a solid request from your legislator and you should reasonably expect to receive an answer. If the answer is that the legislator needs to “talk to colleagues” or “do more research,” ask them about a timeline to check back with the office. Remind them that you are willing to be a resource to them, and ask if there is anything you can do to help.
- Stay on topic by following your agenda. Do not let them pull you into an unrelated topic to use up your limited time. Conversely, if there can be a purpose to your “small talk” such as sharing the story of a student experience, use it to steer the conversation back on topic.
- Explain why your issue is important. This may include sharing stories, presenting statistics, or providing background on homeschool oversight.
- Take notes.
- Introduce yourself in a way that gives credibility to your position. This is your chance to remind the legislator why you are there, whether you are a homeschool student, alumni, parent, or just someone who has an interest in home education policy.
- Build and bring a coalition if you feel it is necessary and productive for the particular meeting. You might consider if there are other organizations or individuals in your district who have a stake in this issue and would be interested in joining the meeting, or helping to provide follow up with the legislator. An example could be another homeschool parent or graduate that you know, or an organization that focuses on child protection or education policy.
- Be prepared! Do exhaustive prior research before meeting with a legislator. Build an agenda ahead of time. You may not need to create timeframes for each topic, but make a list of each topic you want to discuss to keep yourself on track. Send it to your legislator or their staff in advance of your meeting so they can prepare for the meeting as well.
- Follow up. Make sure you thank both the legislator you met with and the staff member who scheduled your meeting for their time. Thank you notes or cards double as a great way to remind them of the meeting, and send the message that you intend to stay engaged. If the legislator or staff said that they needed to do any background work, make sure you reach out to check on their progress.
- The legislator and their staff are public servants–that means they work for YOU. Though you may not get exactly what you want from your legislator, you have a right to express your opinion and have your voice heard.
- Their jobs are demanding. You are interested in your particular issue. Your legislator has to consider the demands of their entire district, with a myriad of different issues and opinions. You will likely have to provide the follow up if you’re expecting action from them.
- This legislator is one piece of the puzzle. Even if they’re interested in homeschool reform, they may never have the chance to vote on your bill. Your legislator is also privy to the political realities of their chamber, and may have to consider a strategy you don’t see.
- You may have to educate your legislator on home education issues. Be prepared, honest, and patient.
- You don’t need to be perfect, but you do need to be professional—dress and act the part, and always remain respectful.