Child Advocates Punch Above Their Weight

Child Advocates Punch Above Their Weight
Photo courtesy of the Partnership for Children and Youth

Child Advocates Punch Above Their Weight

POST BY: Pat Reilly ON June 16th, 2017

“We want the activists parents and teachers to go to their local boards and put the pressure on them using the transparent local accountability plan,” California’s Governor Jerry Brown told the press as he defended his experiment with the local control funding formula. “Now it is true,” he added, “that many advocates would prefer to fly to Sacramento and stay the Sheraton because it is a union hotel, and then make all of their advocacy.”

It’s clear what Governor Brown thinks of the hard working child advocates who battle for kids every day in Sacramento and while he asserts that “subsidiarity” is the best path for effective budgeting, what’s also painfully true is that here in California, where the budget for schools has to battle against every other state interest, kids rely on their child advocates to battle in Sacramento for more resources all the time, day-in-and-day-out no matter where they sleep that night.

June 8 marks a major victory for the Save After School campaign. With the Legislature securing $50 million in funding, tens of thousands of low income 1st through 8th graders and their families, who rely on subsidized high quality after school programming – also known as ASES programming – will be able to stay off the streets after the school bell rings.

After three years of flat funding, this will mark the first time the California legislature has finally increased the ASES budget.

This incredible result is due, in large part, to efforts of the Save After School campaign, whose operating budget in total to “campaign” for the increase totaled less than $30K. Compared to other lobbying efforts like the Chevron Corp.’s $3 million lobbying budget or advocates for accessible heath care who spent over $34 million, this is a David and Goliath sized victory.

As part of their efforts, the Save After School campaign gathered legislators like Phil Ting and Holly Mitchell to address a rally of over 10,000 participants from more than 80 different programs representing the entire state from Los Angeles to the Inland Empire to the Central Valley and throughout northern CA.

The activists, parents, teachers, school board members Governor Brown wants to engage, were very much present both back home and in Sacramento in the form of over 8,000 post cards the Save After School campaign dropped off at the Governor’s Office, across the street from the Sheraton.

The After School campaign is “punching above its’ weight class because it’s leveraging the powerful tools of national political campaigning at the local level, with strong, assertive advocacy at the statewide level.

The Save After School campaign generated media coverage up and down the state from NPR affiliates to Spanish language broadcast to local papers. While the top-down influence of lobby-days and rallies have their place in generating visibility, it will be increasingly important for advocates to embrace digital marketing that communicates directly with parents where they are: on Facebook.

An astounding eighty percent of Americans use Facebook. The demographics of Facebook users reflect the diversity of the United States and, with Americans spending an average of fifty minutes each day on the platform, it is an ideal space to reach, engage, and inspire stakeholders to take action.

Instead of investing in 45-page briefing documents for legislators, advocates should concentrate their efforts and resources on making simple, actionable videos and infographics with a clear call to action. These short pieces can be shared, retweeted, and spread in seconds, making it easy for parents to send a message, not only to their Local Control Accountability Plan (LCAP) leadership, but to elected officials at every level of government from school board to Congress.

Instead of commissioning a $25,000 survey to demonstrate that California voters support kids and hope that traditional media cover the survey, advocates can now leverage new low-cost polling firms like Change Research, that are dramatically dropping the costs of traditional polling and can quickly provide results that show where your target audience is and where public opinion lies on your issue.

Eventually, Jerry Brown will retire to his California ranch, and a new Governor will lead the state. A change in leadership means that a strong communications infrastructure is doubly important. The organizations that demonstrate the ability to build lasting engagement with online audiences will be successful, powerful, and influential no matter who is leading the state.

California is where Facebook was born. It’s the cradle of innovation, experimentation, and disruption. So why are we so hesitant to step outside the box when it comes to advocating for our most vulnerable residents? It’s time for California’s education advocates to start leveraging relationships, experimenting with technology, and trying new engagement strategies. These approaches will not only create the right circumstances in Sacramento for votes that support kids, but will also inspire parents and community leaders to act up and speak out for their students, their communities, and their schools.