The Dark Side of Legislative Alerts

“A dangerous bill has been detected which would end homeschooling as we know it! Walk, don’t run, to your nearest telephone and call your state delegate and senator and urge them to vote against HB99999. Keep those calls and e-mails coming in! Tell all your homeschooling friends! Don’t delay- call today!”

Have you ever received a message like this one? Scary legislative alerts and “telephone blitz” campaigns are commonplace on the homeschooling scene. These campaigns promise quick and dramatic returns for very little effort on your part. For the price of a single phone call to Richmond, you can play an important part in a drama where homeschooling heroes take on villainous legislators and triumph over evil.

Or is that really what happens? Is there a dark side to hundreds of homeschoolers calling their legislators to express their views on a particular bill? Why should homeschoolers be cautious about responding to legislative alerts?

While there certainly are some legislators in Richmond who dislike the concept of homeschooling, most legislators are not “bad guys” with an anti-homeschooling agenda. Most legislation that negatively impacts homeschoolers is written unintentionally.

Mass telephone campaigns are usually unnecessary. All bills travel through a long, difficult process through the legislature, and most bills die in committee without ever becoming laws. Each bill must pass through at least two committees, be voted on by the full House of Delegates and Senate, and be signed by the Governor before it can become law. At each step along the way, there are many places where a bad bill can be killed or amended. VaHomeschoolers has found that a friendly, non-confrontational approach is usually enough to take care of problematic legislation.

Phone call campaigns draw a lot of attention – sometimes too much attention. In some cases, phone call blitzes have actually inadvertently prolonged the life of bad bills, by calling undue attention to legislation that was about to die quietly in committee until the phone calls started pouring into the General Assembly.

While legislators enjoy hearing from their constituents, they find telephone blitzes extremely annoying. Telephone and email blitzes can jam up phone lines and email networks, making it impossible to get any other work done for hours or days. This can leave legislators with a bad impression of homeschoolers, making it more difficult to work constructively with them in the future.

Like the boy who cried “Wolf!,” legislative alerts and telephone campaigns lose their effectiveness when they are overused. VaHomeschoolers considers issuing legislative alerts only after other appropriate and available means have been exhausted.

As the homeschooling movement grows, so does our potential political power and our ability to influence our legislators about homeschooling. Legislative alerts and barrages of telephone calls are one way of using this power, but they are usually unnecessary, not always effective, and may antagonize the very legislators we are trying to influence.

Constructive change is more likely to occur when information is shared in a mutually respectful manner. VaHomeschoolers encourages its members to get to know their local legislators and to educate them about homeschooling and homeschooling legislative issues in a friendly, non-confrontational manner. We are happy to help you brainstorm ways to build positive, working relationships with the legislators in your community.

Calling Your Legislator about Homeschooling Legislation

Before you call:

  • Keep informed about issues currently before our legislature.
  • Gather sufficient information about the legislation in question. Find out how it affects homeschoolers and where it currently stands in the legislative process. (The complete text and current status of Virginia General Assembly legislation is available online.)
  • If possible, find out what actions other homeschooling organizations have taken regarding this bill up to this point.
  • Make sure you know the bill number, the name of the bill, and the name of the bill’s patron.
  • In time-sensitive situations, use your best judgment and act as you think appropriate.

When you call:

Telephone calls to your legislator about a particular bill are most effective if you place the call no later than the day before the legislators go into session to vote. After this time, your message will be placed in a hard copy or electronic folder, where it may not be read until after the vote on the bill.

In general, it is most effective to call your own delegate and state senator. Legislators do not appreciate receiving calls from people who are not their own constituents.

VaHomeschoolers’ Policy on Legislative Alerts

VaHomeschoolers considers issuing legislative alerts under the following circumstances:

  • After other appropriate and available means have been exhausted;
  • When the alert can be issued in time for members to receive it and act on it before the bill is voted upon by legislators.
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