I’m going to start with my presupposition: If a school participates in school choice, it has a duty to actively engage in politics. I do not mean dipping a toe in the proverbial pond of politics, but actively engaging in local and state politics and calling its school community to involvement as well.
Paying Attention to All School Funding Sources
Any funding source upon which a school relies requires attention, whether that funding comes from tuition-paying parents, charitable giving, a sponsoring church, and even government-based parental choice programs. Each of these funding sources brings with it unique concerns and constraints. Parents often believe they own a part of the operation of the school because they write a tuition check. Fundraising efforts often require the hiring of a development director and usually take inordinate amounts of time to build relationships, along with making the funding case by key school leaders. Church-sponsored schools have to work out the shared space and cost conundrums of which classrooms get used on Sunday and who pays for the maintenance of the facilities. Likewise, schools that participate in school choice programs need to be paying proper attention to the government relations that have say over those programs.
Next to the church, there is likely no other funding source that has the potential for more influence on how the school operates than a government entity providing a funding mechanism to a school. For decades such authority of the government has scared many Christian schools away from large and small government-operated programs. But the truth is that there are uncertainties that accompany each funding model. Will parents renew enrollment? Will that funder write us another check? Will the church decide it no longer wants a school? Will the state require state testing? Regardless of the funding model, there has always been the need for reliance on God to provide. Is it possible we have been overly concerned with what the government might say—and what our other current funding sources are saying as well? Thus, schools should not be scared to consider furthering the mission of a Christian education through choice programs, but they must remember that the more reliant they are on a funding source, the more bound they are to care about that funding source. Consequently, if a school is participating in parental choice programs, then that school needs to be actively involved in state and local politics.
How to Positively Engage in Politics as a Christian School
What does being actively involved look like? It’s key to remember that all four funding models are relationship-based. If the only time your elected officials hear from you is when you are in opposition to something they are doing, you aren’t building relationships. You are building walls. Here are some thoughts on how to positively engage in politics as a school:
- Invite an elected official to your school for a festival, a sporting event, or to speak at chapel. Public officials love schools because they are full of parents (voters). While they are there, tell them the success stories and have parents share their stories.
- Stay connected to what your state private school organizations are doing, and get involved with them.
- Get on the radar of your state CAPE (Council for American Private Education).
- Regularly review the state tracking map on ACSI’s Legal Legislative page of the ACSI website to see what legislation we are tracking in your state. Use ACSI’s VoterVoice system to send your elected officials an email.
- Attend the annual ACSI Legal Legislative Conference in Washington, D.C., and receive training on how to engage the political process.
- Select one or two staff members (other than the principals and administrator) to be the school’s legislative liaison and to stay on top of issues impacting your school. Make sure this is more than busywork for the person by acting on their suggestions.
- When you have events for parents, make sure you are educating them and getting them involved.
- Encourage parents to write to their elected officials on issues that matter, or just to express appreciation for your school and for choice programs.
- Send your school to your state capital to support a statewide rally—or host one locally.
- Provide written or oral testimony to your legislature or local administrative body when they are considering initiatives that will affect your school.
- Engage your local public schools and public school administration by joining together with a local school to do a joint event or service project.
About the Author
Philip Scott’s background is a blend of education, religion, and law. He has taught middle and high school students in Christian schools. He is twice a graduate of Liberty University—in education and from their law school—and has studied theology and law at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He currently serves as ACSI’s In-House Counsel. He can be reached via email at email@example.com.