Getting Started: What Is Going On in Your State?
Do any of the items below describe you?
- You don’t know whether there is an educational choice program in your state or city.
- There is no program, and you are starting from scratch.
- There is a program, but not enough people qualify to use it – or know that it exists.
- Your child is being bullied at their public school and needs a way out now.
- You just lost your job and you need to find a way to pay for your child’s private school.
- The public school that serves your family is failing, and you know your children aren’t learning like they should.
- The public school you’ve been assigned is not meeting in person, and you have to go to work – staying in that school would mean leaving your children alone.
- There is a program, but you’ve researched it and your child doesn’t qualify because the requirements are too narrow.
- You have talked to your legislator and are trying to convince him or her to introduce a bill.
- A bill sponsor has reached out to you with an idea for a program and wants your support.
Keys To Effective Organizing
Over the years, IJ has worked alongside activists on hundreds of efforts large and small, with groups of all shapes and sizes. Sometimes, the mission will be accomplished after just a few months or less – other times, it takes years to make progress, and your parent network may need to weather challenges along the way.
But no matter what your fight ends up looking like, we have developed Five Keys to Effective Organizing that will put your group on the path to success and keep it strong even through difficult times. It’s worth reviewing them before you start to recruit others, but also keeping them handy as you go along.
Five Keys to Effective Organizing
- Maintain a clear mission
- Keep engagement ongoing
- Stay on message
- Show goodwill to all involved
- Be dedicated and determined
Reviving an Existing Group or Joining With Others
You might be trying to build a parent group from scratch, or your state might already have a parent network, or small groups around the state that care about educational choice just aren’t connected with each other. If you’re working with others, here are a few tips and tricks to being successful.
First, it helps to know who’s out there and already organizing. You can start by searching Facebook groups in your state for education-related terms. It is also a good idea to look at recent news articles about educational choice around the state – if they give a quote from parents who support the program, see if you can connect with those parents! You can also talk to IJ and any state-based partners that you’re working with. If there are parents organizing for choices in your state, chances are that someone knows about them already.
Once you connect with other groups in your state, talk to them and listen to what they’ve been doing already. What works for them, and what hasn’t been so successful? You might be able to learn important lessons from their experiences and avoid wasting time. Depending on the size of the group that already exists and how much material they have already created, such as t-shirts and a website, it might make sense to join up with their group, as long as you agree with what they’re advocating for. Or, you can talk with leaders about creating a new name for all of your groups to join or partner with, so that when you show up at the state capitol, you can all be wearing the same t-shirts and speaking on behalf of the same network. Remember, there is strength in numbers!
Starting To Recruit – Finding Allies and Building a Network of Supporters
One dedicated parent can make a huge difference, but you should not try to tackle this fight alone. Creating an educational choice program is hard work; it requires a lot of time, dedication, and resources. It can become overwhelming without a network of people around you to help.
It’s important to organize in advance of when your state legislature starts meeting for the year, so you have plenty of time to grow your network, strategize, and mobilize for action. Your biggest supporters are those who are most directly affected and have the most to lose: The parents and guardians of children who are suffering by not having good educational opportunities.
Perhaps you already know several parents from around the neighborhood or through your children’s friends – start there! Reach out to friends and neighbors, and make sure to get their contact information and ask for the best way to stay in touch. From the very earliest days, it’s important to keep a master list of every single person you meet, regardless of how much they can be involved, because there are many things both big and small that you’ll need help with, and you don’t want to forget anyone who might be interested.
Getting Together and Building Community
Once you have developed a list of parents to invite, schedule a meeting with them. IJ is happy to participate via video, or in-person if you are comfortable with us joining and it is safe to do so at that time.
The legislative process can be agonizingly slow or surprisingly fast. You want to get your team in order as soon as possible so you’re ready to go when you need to.