President’s message: Advocating at the state and federal level to improve California public education

By CSBA President Albert Gonzalez

Serving as a board of education member is a process of constant learning. Even in my 16 years as a trustee, I am still refining my practice and expanding the toolkit I use in this job. One area where I’ve experienced the most growth is in advocacy beyond the boundaries of my school district. A valuable lesson I’ve gained from CSBA is that effective governance in your district requires aggressive advocacy outside of it.

As trustees, we can’t operate strictly in a reactive mode, coping with whatever dictates come down from Sacramento or Washington, D.C. Instead, we must play a role in shaping policy and creating the conditions needed to strengthen schools and support students at the local level. That advocacy can take many forms: educating local stakeholders, organizing demonstrations, urging community members to contact with their representatives about important TK-12 issues, or taking part in email or text campaigns. To that end, I encourage everyone to sign up for advocacy alerts from CSBA (text CSBA4kids to 52886 to join). Once you do, you’ll receive a call to action when your voice is needed to support or oppose the most important bills being considered in the Legislature.

Beyond these evergreen advocacy tactics, there are two excellent opportunities to hone your advocacy skills on the horizon. In March and April, you’ll have the chance to make a case for your local educational agency in the halls of power during CBSA’s 2024 Legislative Action Week and the CSBA-ACSA Coast2Coast Federal Advocacy Trip.

I’m brimming with anticipation because these are two of the most important events on CSBA’s annual calendar. They give members from all over California the chance to learn about critical legislative and policy issues from subject matter experts, receive training on effective advocacy techniques, share knowledge with peers from across the state, and speak truth to our representatives in the state and national capitals. If you’re still on the fence about attending either Legislative Action Week or Coast2Coast, let me encourage you to fully embrace the advocacy aspect of your governance role.

Each year, our Legislation Action Week gets bigger and better. The 2024 edition continues in virtual form for maximum convenience and accessibility while renovations continue in and around the State Capitol building. This three-day legislative advocacy event connects local school district and county board members with legislators and staff to shine light on the challenges facing California’s schools and influence vital budget and legislative issues.

This is an opportunity to reinforce our key message that if the state uses schools to balance the budget, it will jeopardize efforts at the local level to boost achievement and student well-being. It’s important that the Governor and Legislature refrain from saddling local educational agencies with unfunded mandates and have a contingency plan to protect TK-12 schools if revenues continue to fall below the rosy estimates contained in the January Budget Proposal. This is a unique opportunity to provide the local perspective that your representatives won’t get from the press or legislative analysis. And since it’s online, the barrier to entry is basically nil. CSBA staff takes care of everything from scheduling virtual meetings to providing advocacy training and talking points — all trustees have to do is log on!

A little further from home, the 2024 Coast2Coast event will feature a day of education policy review specific to California, an “insiders’” briefing on the latest politics affecting federal education policy, and a networking opportunity with prominent D.C. figures and fellow educators. This will be followed by two days of meetings on Capitol Hill to advocate directly with California congressional representatives, White House officials, key federal agency leaders and other top policymakers. While TK-12 education is primarily a state and local matter, recent years have demonstrated the incredible impact the federal government can have when it directs its attention and resources to LEAs, to say nothing of longstanding issues like special education, school nutrition, funding for high-need students and the Secure Rural Schools Act, among others.

This is a crucial period for California schools as we work to accelerate learning recovery with the storm clouds of budget cuts potentially looming overhead. But as CSBA’s Governmental Relations Chief Patrick O’Donnell often says, “Don’t agonize, organize!” I couldn’t agree more. Now is the time to participate and elevate your advocacy on behalf of California students.