Tracking legislation: Tips and Strategies
In general, legislative areas that should be followed target community health, career and technical education, school safety, child and youth development, juvenile justice, housing and community development, and social and behavioral health services. Any of these areas may focus on initiatives such as school climate, school mental health, trauma senstitivity, or positive youth development. These opportunities can be in the state legislature, local legislature, local school board, or a local organization, such as a hospital. There may also be more encompassing proposals within which questions of school-connected child development or universal prevention initiatives can be embedded, such as violence prevention or the school-to-prison pipeline, which tend to take place on a state level. Or there may be the big pieces of legislation on health care reform, for example, in which language that pertains, or could pertain, to school-based prevention is included. At a local level, look for activities that can connect to what you want to do, such as prevention education or data collection by a local hospital, or a business’ support for “soft-skills” training. Your team should be tied into numerous networks so that you are informed about any major activity being considered or undertaken that could affect your initiative.
Use the Connecting to the Policy Environment worksheet to track the policies, procedures and regulations that could impact your initiative. Use the Policy Tracking worksheet to track an individual idea or bill through the process.
How to Strategies:
A core activity will be engaging with the budget process. In many states, there are non-profit budget analysis and advocacy organizations that can be helpful in familiarizing you with the budget process in your state. The budget experts in these organizations may have previously worked for legislative fiscal committees or in the state budget division, so they follow budget cycles and processes closely and know how things are done – they can be great allies.
At the local level, budgets are generally less complex. Finding an official responsible for the budget at your local school board or municipal/county council can help you access this information. Pay attention to how school districts formulate their budgets and how they share funding with the local government. In some areas the percent of local taxes that pays for schools is determined annually, in others schools may be able to set their own taxes. It is important that you understand how your local governing bodies operate. For a company or organization, the budget process is even less complicated since fewer people are involved, but it is similar: typically, departments will create a draft budget which is given to the top administration and chief financial officer who make adjustments. Once that budget is agreed to, a board will approve it or make additional changes.
Once legislation (including the budget) is enacted, the administration becomes responsible for figuring out how to implement it. This part of the process can provide crucial opportunities for advancing comprehensive student supports and behavioral health promotion. At a state and local level, this means that regulations must be drafted that will govern how the statute or budget item will work. How federal grants, including block grants, are implemented may fall into the purview of a state regulatory agency. In the case of a school district, once the school board approves a policy or the budget, the school superintendent is responsible for implementing it. Similarly, in an organization, if the board approves the budget and policies, it is up to the organization to figure out how to implement it, especially if there are changes to their original submission.
At a state and local government level, there are other important venues where you may be able to shape thinking and thereby effectively advance school-connected child development and prevention approaches. Frequently, these task forces and commissions involve people from numerous sectors, including businesses, families, and experts. Some to look for include:
Keep track of both the legislative and the executive branches – and of the interaction between the two. Budgets, for example, are negotiated between these branches. Your Action Team should be aware of who is advancing what among the Executive Branch (Governor, Mayor, Executive Director, agency or department heads, etc.) and the Legislature (committee chairs, committee members, and staff to these committees).
It is desirable, and often possible, to shape the thinking of policy-makers by educating them in advance of formal legislative actions. This is when ideas and concepts that become bills or regulations are developed and where knowledge about school-connected child development and prevention initiatives can get real traction. This is where data can influence people to formulate policy, and where personal relationships with key legislators, staff, or agency leaders can earn you a place in the discussion, or aseat at the “table.” Locally, if you become known as an expert or interested in a topic, someone on your team could be asked to sit on a committee that is researching an issue for either the local government or the school board.
Be aware that trade associations and advocacy groups will frequently convene their own meetings to discuss policy and formulate their responses and recommendations, and it may be possible to participate in these sessions. Sometimes, it is difficult to know where the “tables” are and how they are constituted so use the networks and relationships that have been developed to learn about them.
Public hearings are the other end of the political spectrum. The legislature often holds public hearings as do most school boards. In addition, public hearings are sometimes held on the budget part of the legislative package and on the implementation regulations and guidelines. At all of these, think through which key Action Team members should testify for greatest impact.
Updated January 2018