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Lessons Learned from a Springfield Budget Hearing

  ·  Christine Nicpon

Early Learning Advocacy DayPart of being an Illinois Early Childhood Fellow at the Latino Policy Forum means a transition from practitioner to professional advocate. As understanding the decision-making process is essential to advocacy, last October I had the opportunity to observe a hearing in the State House Elementary and Secondary Education appropriations committee.

What I learned from that experience is that with the right preparation, anyone can effectively testify at budget hearings. Open to the public, and with people as young as ten having testified, you too can do it! Here are some tips to keep in mind:

  • First, know your audience. The elected officials at the table decide the fate of your program and how much that line item will receive. If anything, look up your local house representative or your local senator’s  bio on the Illinois’s General Assembly website. Understand the lens as shaped by political membership, geography and professional experiences with which elected officials approach budgetary decisions. This information is vital in framing your message, making it relevant to politicians and compelling them to action.
  • Second, assume nothing and educate your audience. You are an expert in your content area! Don’t be afraid to show off your knowledge and convey passion for your work, as elected officials are expected to be jacks of all trades, skimming the surface to know a little bit about everything.  Be confident in your message and provide them with sound bites to marinate on as they decide your funding level.
  • Third, be ready for them to say no. Don’t be discouraged, it’s part of the deflection game. Persistence is part of what’s required to be an effective advocate. Your program matters as an important investment to the vitality of our state and increases our national competitiveness. There are a number of ways to raise revenue in the state without cutting vital programs and it helps to have a few suggestions when prompted.
  • Finally, hit them with cold hard facts. Regardless of where the legislature stands on an issue; facts are facts and are supported by empirical evidence. The research is out there, go after it! Programs have increasingly strict evaluation requirements that regularly assess the effectiveness of your interventions, share your findings. What is the return on investment? Explain how these dollars represent an investment in the potential of our most valuable assets in our state, which are our children and who will determine our competiveness in the global economy.

In closing, my mother once said, “Just because I do not have a Ph.D. does not mean I’m not smart.”  As a parent, provider, or practitioner you see the change in your community every day. You have the tools to provide a window into the experience of your program. Give it a try, the worst they can say is no. Let’s use our position and access to elevate the voice of those that are overlooked or excluded from the decision-making process. 

Posted In: Education