This November, leaders from coast to coast will be elected who have the potential to alter how students experience their education. On the federal level, 33 senators and all 435 members of the House of Representatives are up for reelection. Perhaps more importantly, however, so are thousands of state and local leaders. For most Americans, state and local level positions have a much stronger impact on their everyday lives (especially in education), and yet these elected officials receive far less attention and communication than national figures. Low voter turnout during midterm elections and so much focus on national politics actually creates a tremendous opportunity for music education advocates around the country at the state and local levels, as well.
Many state representatives consider receiving ten pieces of mail stating the same opinion a strong majority among their constituents. This means that a relatively small, committed group of music education supporters in your community can directly impact politicians who have the strongest influence on what’s taught in school. If a handful of music parents, music program alumni, and supportive community members at each school were to write their local representatives each election season in support of music programs, the potential national change could be dramatic.
So, how do committed advocates write a letter that will do more than receive a polite thank you e-mail? Remember, regardless of what you think of the legislator, their job is to listen to you. Be polite and very clear about how impactful your local program is; include photos or press coverage of local events featuring the students, especially if awards are involved. Help your representative take pride in the accomplishments of your students and how far they have come, in part because of demonstrating a commitment to music education. Also, if there are businesses, festivals or venues that rely on your programs, highlight those as well – music and the arts contribute more than just tourism and travel to the national economy, according to the Department of Commerce. At the federal level, the 30 member-group strong Music Education Policy Roundtable is a coalition of organizations that represent not only teachers, but other parts of the music community, as well, and is vital to building support. We consistently send the message: strengthening music means enhancing not only the image of a district, but also its core economic foundations.
If your program has recently undergone cuts, or has encountered other roadblocks, remember to be clear that as someone who believes in your community, you view music education as indispensable. If a politician is aware that there are concerned parents mobilizing over budget cuts, or a crowd of 1,000 people from your district attending student performances, they may be inclined to take music education more seriously.
The second aspect is to request specific items of support, and a reply letter, indicating each politician or school board member’s position on music. Are they a supporter of music and the arts as a core subject? If so, would they support more funding to increase enough music staff to allow access to music for every student in middle school? Are they willing to support at least two credits of music education being mandatory for all high school graduates? The more that these specific requests are shared in your area, the more strongly they will be considered – making organization key.
The third and final step is to make certain they know that their follow through (or lack thereof) will influence you and your community’s vote — then, consistently follow up. Remember, many local representatives have never had someone approach them about music education, but have likely experienced its joys as children, or have children currently involved with music. By sharing the latest research demonstrating how music education fits into their community, you will be engaging them on a level that may help to carry music programs for years to come.
– Alexandra Eaton, NAfME Policy Analyst/Coordinator