Although the 2020 fall elections are a year away, now is the time to start planning for voter-approved funding proposals such as bonds and levies. These funding vehicles can be leveraged to raise funds for large technology upgrades and improvements. Presidential elections, in particular, present an excellent opportunity to leverage voter participation, especially in states where minimum voter turnout is required to pass funding requests. However, early planning and consistent follow through is critical to help ensure successful bond or levy passage. Although rules vary widely by location, there are basic steps that every school system should take when launching a voter-approved funding initiative.
Step 1 – Identify your timeline. The first step in planning a successful fundraising initiative is to identify your timeline and key dates, including:
The date your proposal must be approved by your school board
The date the fundraising initiative must be filed to be on the ballot.
Familiarize yourself with the laws that govern voter-approved funding proposals in your community. Understanding where the fall elections fit in with other elections in 2020 will help you determine the best time to present your proposal to voters.
Step 2 – Clearly define your vision. Draft a vision statement that defines the following: How will this initiative support student learning? Why is funding needed now? What will bond or levy funds provide that you can’t currently afford? Make sure your community can clearly understand how the additional funds will benefit students.
Step 3 – Identify the data available to make your decisions. Geovisual tools and publicly available information, including census data, birth records, voter history, housing sales, rental market pricing, and other data can help you frame your message.
The Experience of Highline Public Schools (WA)
What they did: Systemized how data was collected to drive discussions at their Capital Facility Advisory Committee (CFAC) meetings. The CFAC is comprised of nearly 50 members including appointed city officials, community support agencies/based partners and community members who are selected by lottery. They then make recommendations to the school board with regards to capacity planning, boundary adjustments, and technology levy and capital construction projects.
Outcome: By leveraging geovisual tools and other data, the CFAC group has helped pass the last 3 bonds put before voters – resulting in 15 replacement schools, 2 new schools, change to school boundaries and a successful transition of 6th grade to middle school. Their plans for November 2020 include putting forth a bond request for 3 additional schools coupled with a technology levy.
Step 4 – Determine eligibility. The eligibility of equipment, construction, services, etc. for purchase with voter-funded initiatives varies widely. Review all the rules for voter funded initiatives in your state. Is this process the right option? Will you be able to accomplish your vision with these funds?
Step 5 – Define your projects. After determining that a voter-funded initiative process is the right approach, make sure you clearly define the projects for which you are requesting funds. Back up your proposal with a detailed technology plan that outlines project goals and expenditures over the next 3-5 years. Document timelines, costs, dependencies and operational impacts for all areas of the organization. Providing stakeholders with enough time to review the information, ask questions and provide input will help earn the buy-in necessary for success.
Step 6 – Identify synergies. It can be challenging to make a large financial ask if your school system has other critical needs. Identify other projects that mesh with your proposal and consolidate funding requests where it makes sense. For example, you might combine the implementation of new student information system with the replacement of a percentage of teacher and student workstations. Or, you might include network equipment upgrades with a funding request to implement a fiber network. Coupling projects together can help build synergies that are easy for the community to see and understand. Be sure to explain how your plan builds upon previous work and how it will be leveraged to enhance student learning.
Step 7 – Build support for the funding initiative. A successful funding vote requires a comprehensive communications plan in which you identify key stakeholders, solicit their buy-in and support, and build the momentum for a passing vote. Your stakeholders include but are not limited to: district leadership, school board, parents, students, community leaders, and the broader voting community. Work closely with your district leadership and communications team to implement a communications plan that builds enthusiasm for your funding proposal. Use multiple communication channels, including local news media, face-to-face communication, social media, and direct mail to connect with voters. Keep the information relevant, timely, and concise.
The decision to pursue voter-approved funds is a significant time commitment. Starting now will build the foundation for a year-long effort to build momentum and garner support for your initiative in the fall of 2020!