CHN's Legislative Action Guide is a mini-course in civics.
- How to monitor legislation
- The Inner Workings Disclosed
- Anatomy of a Bill
- How to write to your legislators
- How to identify your representatives
- How a bill becomes a law
Locate Your Legislators
Political Action Handbook
Published by the editors of The California Journal.
The Political Action Handbook gives an excellent overview of the political and legislative process, with numerous suggestions on how citizens can become involved. CHN offers interested members an opportunity to purchase this recommended handbook on the California political process.
Purpose of Legislator Visits
Excerpt from Legislation Monitoring Report
by Chris Cardiff
A critical part of CHN's Mission is to prevent legislation that would infringe the right of families to direct the education of their children: "CHN exists to protect the fundamental right of the family to educate its children in the manner it deems appropriate, without regulation or interference by federal state, or local agencies. CHN monitors and responds to legislation which may pose a threat to homeschooling." State legislators are responsible for most of the laws concerning education in California. By visiting your state legislators (and their appropriate legislative aides) you can help achieve these goals by:
- 1) Establishing a relationship with your legislators
- Personal letters to legislators about legislation carry a lot of influence. Personal visits carry even more. They show that you care enough about an issue to take the time and trouble to present your case in person. In some cases the relationship with your legislator will lead to close coordination on issues you care about. You could, for example, be notified in advance about troublesome legislation - an enormous benefit in the sometimes quickly changing political environment where a last minute amendment can mean the difference between legislation benign to homeschooling or problematical.
- 2) Educate legislators and aides about homeschooling
- Legislators and their aides need to know that homeschooling is a viable alternative to traditional schools. They need to know that there is an enormous variety of homeschooling families and philosophies - there is no "one-size-fits-all" for homeschoolers. And they need to know that homeschooling in California has been enormously successful over the last twenty years and doesn't need any legislative "help".
- 3) Introduce legislators and aides to CHN
- It's important for legislators to know of the diversity within the homeschooling movement. There are several homeschooling groups operating in California at the state level. While CHN works to maintain a relationship with all of them, we do not share the same mission and goals as they do. While we find ourselves in substantial agreement with some of them, there are others that work for legislation that is in opposition to CHN's Mission. Legislators need to know there is not one single homeschooling organization that represents all of homeschooling - there is no "one-size-fits-all" for homeschooling groups either.
Preparing to Visit Your Legislators
The first step is to make an appointment. If one or both of your legislators are unavailable on the days you are visiting Sacramento, ask if you can meet with the legislative aide (or aides) responsible for education issues. Aides frequently grow up to become legislators. They also are the ones who help shape a legislator's actual position on issues.
Remember when meeting with your legislator that you are representing not only yourself but homeschooling in general. Appearance, promptness, and other customary courtesies will all count in the impression you make - in some cases even more than the comments you make.
In most cases you will have only a brief amount of time (10-15 minutes) to make one or two points that the legislator or aide will retain. So, it's important to make sure you know what those points are ahead of time. In line with CHN's Mission and the charter of CHN's Legislation Monitoring Committee, here are a couple of suggested talking points:
- Homeschoolers are happy with the current legislation status quo. California's existing private school statutes allow independent homeschooling families the flexibility they need to homeschool.
- Explain, briefly, the main reasons your family chooses to homeschool.
- Introduce CHN briefly. Outline CHN's Mission with respect to legislation and CHN's focus on independent homeschooling families.
As a reminder of your visit, leave two copies (one for the legislator, one for an aide) of CHN literature. A follow-up call or letter (preferred) thanking the legislator (or aide) for their time not only helps with the impression you make but also reminds them yet again about your issue and that you consider it important.
To increase effectiveness, we want to encourage families in the same legislative districts to visit their legislators as part of a group. To coordinate these groups, please contact the Legislation Monitoring Chair.
Volunteer to Monitor Legislation
Hundreds of bills are introduced each year. CHN is always looking for more volunteers to help identify and track legislation that would impact independent homeschooling. If you are interested in helping, please contact the Legislation Monitoring Chair. Everyone is welcome regardless of your level of expertise. CHN happily provides training.
How to Write Letters to the Editor
It is important that you write with your own voice, as form letters are not very effective. Short, concise letters are always more readily published than long, meandering ones; try to keep them between 100 - 200 words. Longer letters are likely to be edited; and it's much better that you do your own editing. Keep your letters brief - not more that 250 words and donít feel the need to mention every point you want to make about homeschooling. One or two points in a well written, punchy letter is more effective than a long laundry list.
Remember that they fit only about ten letters in a typical editorial section out of the hundreds they receive, so the ones they publish either:
- Tactfully represent expressions of what many people had to say.
- Make some point exceedingly well.
- Are signed by a prominent or influential person.
In all cases, the letters are usually short and to the point. While authors may gain satisfaction when seeing their letter in print, being certain it was read. It is also apparent that letters they do not acknowledge can influence the media. Often, a simple letter to someone in the media winds up in major media coverage weeks or months later.
Be timely; try to respond within two or three days of the article's publication. Pick an issue of particular importance to you and stay on topic - don't be afraid to let some passion show through.
Here are some stylistic considerations:
- State the argument you're rebutting or responding to, as briefly as possible, in the letter's introduction. Don't do a lengthy rehash; it's a waste of valuable space and boring, to boot.
- Stick to a single subject. Deal with one issue per letter.
- Don't be shrill or abusive. Editors tend to discard letters containing personal attacks. Even though you're dying to call Delaine Eastin a corrupt over-zealous governmental parasite, stifle the urge.
- Your letter should be logically organized. First a brief recitation of the argument you are opposing, followed by a statement of your own position. Then present your evidence. Close with a short summary of your position or a pithy comment.
- Use *and attribute* facts, figures and expert testimony whenever possible. This raises your letter above simple opinion. You will find plenty of ammunition on CHN's website. For example, a recent article had this generalized statement, "Studies show that the more parents get involved with their kids, the more successful the children will be." Where possible state the actual figures of the study.
Readers respect the opinions of people with special knowledge or expertise. Use expert testimony to bolster your case ("If the superintendent really cared about kids being well prepared, more kids would get homeschooled," said Assemblyman Ray Haynes, R-Riverside. "Homeschool kids consistently outperform public school kids.").
- Proofread your letter carefully for errors in spelling, punctuation and grammar. Newspapers will usually edit to correct these mistakes, but your piece is more likely to be published if it is "clean" to begin with. Read your letter to a friend, for objective input.
One suggestion is that a letter shouldn't be mailed the same day it is written. Write, proofread, and edit the piece. Then put it aside until the following day. Re-reading your letter in a fresh light often helps you to spot errors in reasoning, stilted language and the like. On the other hand, don't let the letter sit too long and lose it's timeliness.
- Try to view the letter from the reader's perspective. Will the arguments make sense to someone without a special background on this issue? Did you use technical terms or abbreviations not familiar to the average reader?
- Should your letter be typed? In this day and age, generally yes. Double or triple space the letter if it is short.
- Direct your missives to "Letters to the Editor," or some similar sounding title.
- Always include your name, address, daytime phone number and signature. The papers will not publish this information, but they may use it to verify that you wrote the letter.
- Most importantly - WRITE! Do not try to do a perfect letter. Just give it a good effort and send it off. Letter writing is the one thing that any one of us can do on our own without the need to work through a group. No committees are necessary. Just do it!
Don't be discouraged if your letter isn't published. The editor may have received more responses on that issue than he feels he can handle, and the more letters they receive with a specific point, the more likely they are to print one of the letters of similar design.