Gearing Up for Budget Hearings: Tips for Testifying

wasb_logo-hires_printAs we posted earlier, the dates and locations of six public hearings on the state budget have been announced.  WASB Government Relations staff (Dan Rossmiller or Chris Kulow) will be in attendance at each of the hearings as follows:

  • Monday, April 3 – UW-Platteville, Platteville (Chris)
  • Wednesday, April 5 – State Fair Park, Milwaukee (Dan)
  • Friday, April 7 – Berlin High School, Berlin (Chris)
  • Tuesday, April 18 – Spooner High School, Spooner (Dan)
  • Wednesday, April 19 – Ellsworth High School, Ellsworth (Dan)
  • Friday, April 21 – Marinette High School, Marinette (Chris)

If you know you plan to testify at a hearing please let Dan or Chris know.  Start times and specific location information has not yet been determined. Stay tuned here for further updates as that information becomes available.

The governor’s proposed $650 million investment in public schools is not a done deal.  It is in jeopardy and well-presented testimony, including local school district stories, can positively affect the final outcome of the budget for your school and all schools.  As a school official, your comments based on first-hand knowledge can be much more persuasive than those of a lobbyist. (That’s a good thing… because lobbyists are generally not welcomed to testify at Joint Finance Committee (JFC) budget hearings… so we really rely on WASB members to make great points on behalf of public schools to get our message across.) Here are some tips for testifying at a public hearing:

Before the Hearing

  • Do some investigation into committee members’ backgrounds and check with WASB prior to the hearing.  Is there a committee member from your area?  Do committee members have any discernible connections to your district (alumni, relatives attend, etc.) If a hearing is held near your district there is a good chance your local legislators will attend even if they are not on the JFC (sometimes they will fill in for JFC members).
  • Prepare your testimony in advance.  WASB Day at the Capitol materials are a great resource for preparing testimony.  You can type up testimony word for word on your district’s letterhead and have it distributed to committee members when you testify. To cover committee members and staff, bring at least 20 copies for distribution in addition to your copy.
  • Bring a pen and notepad to use for taking notes.  You may want to eliminate points that were made earlier by others and focus on other points depending on how the hearing goes.  Try to anticipate possible questions/challenges to your position before and during the hearing. Listen carefully as other school leaders testify so you can get a sense of what those questions/challenges might be.
  • If you’ve never been to a hearing before, it can be helpful to watch portions of prior JFC hearings or other committee hearings on Wisconsin Eye to become familiar with how a public hearing operates.  Watching prior JFC hearings is also useful for preparation as you will be able to see how other public school advocates were received and what questions were asked of them.

At the Hearing

  • In order to testify, you will need to fill out a registration slip. Find the Capitol staff assigned to the venue to obtain a registration form.  Typically they are seated at a registration table. Fill out the form and return it to the staff.  Make sure to indicate you are there to speak. Typically, if this year follows past practice, when you turn in your registration slip you will be handed a numbered ticket. Hold on to that ticket you will be called to testify in numerical order according to the number printed on your ticket. WASB Government Relations staff (Dan or Chris) will be in attendance at each hearing as well if you have any questions.
  • Be prepared to wait for a while (likely several hours) before you are called to testify.  Typically, these hearings are held in four or five locations around the state and  attract hundreds of people who wish to speak. As we noted, people are called to testify in the order they register.  In general, the earlier you are able to get to the hearing site and register, the earlier you will be able to speak.
  • Maximize your presence.  JFC public hearings typically draw a crowd and a strict time limit will likely be imposed on those testifying.  Those testifying as part of a group are typically given more time than those who testify as individuals. To make efficient of limited time consider grouping together with other school board members/public education advocates present.  Before you are called make sure everyone knows who is going to do the talking or how you are splitting up what you want to say.
  • When you are called to testify, briefly thank the JFC co-chairs and members for the opportunity to testify and identify yourself and your school district.  If your legislator is on the committee or is present make a note of that before beginning.  Keep your comments brief and to the point because you will not have a lot of time.  Don’t repeat the arguments made by prior presenters.  Be prepared to lead with your local situation and examples of how the proposed budget will impact your district.
  • Following your testimony, committee members may wish to ask you questions regarding your comments, experience or your district. If you don’t know the answer, acknowledge the question and offer to provide the information with a follow-up letter to the committee. Remain calm and polite, even if a committee member attempts to undermine your position.  Stick to your points and back up your comments with specific examples from your district.

After the Hearing

  • Take care to follow up on any questions asked during your testimony or requests for additional information, if any.  Send copies of your testimony to your local legislators.  Make sure to check in with WASB staff at the hearing or afterwards to make sure we know about your testimony and you are properly credited with board member recognition points.  There may be hundreds of people at these hearings and we don’t want to miss anybody who deserves proper acknowledgement.
  • Finally, feel a great sense of accomplishment for participating in your state government as an advocate for kids!  THANK YOU!!!