Three Things Every School Can Do to Promote Civic Engagement

September 14, 2012

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Raise your hand if you or a friend has ever said any of these things:

A) "I'm really not into politics."
B) "I don't vote - all the candidates are equally lousy so one's as good as another."
C) "One vote doesn't make any difference."

In 2010, less than half of eligible voters in California cast a ballot in the governor's race. And that was the voters who were registered!

As a democracy, we have a problem; as schools, we have a tremendous opportunity to turn this around. There is a proud and historic tradition that America's public schools hold a special place and play an essential role in knitting together the fabric of our community. The strength of America's representative democracy depends on the informed participation of its people. We must reverse the serious decline in young people's participation and prepare them to do their part. Every student - from kindergarten through high school - needs to learn and experience the fundamental ideas, principles and values of our nation and to graduate ready for the responsibilities of citizenship.

To that end, CCSA has launched a new campaign - California Informed Voters in Charter Schools (CIVICS). Families, teachers, and school leaders can model good citizenship by registering to vote, getting educated about what's on the ballot, and by casting a ballot on Election Day. The purpose of the CIVICS program is to provide a framework for charter schools that want to inspire their parents and teachers to usher in a new era of civic engagement in California. Check out our online tool kit, which makes it easy!

"We want to make it as easy as possible for you," said Corri Ravare, Executive Director of Families That Can. "As parents, we want to set an example for our kids of what it looks like to be a good citizen in a democracy. Voting is a great way to engage parents and talk about how the decisions that elected officials make affect your school."

Three things every school can do

There are a few things that every school can easily do:

1. Register

Put voter registration forms in your school office - you can request forms through your local county clerk's office. Encourage parents who aren't registered to do so and remind folks to re-register if they've moved or changed their name or party affiliation.

2. Educate

There often isn't good public information about local races like those for the school board. Providing non-partisan voter information really makes a difference.

3. Remind

Put up a poster, send out an email or post a reminder on social media about the deadlines to register to vote and election day.

Key dates:

  • Sept. 25: Non-profit Voter Registration Day -Join charter schools across the state to register new voters! http://www.familiesthatcan.org/2012/07/families-that-can-launches-the-civics-campaign.html
  • October 22: Last Day to Register to Vote
  • November 6: Election Day

As educators, we have a unique responsibility and opportunity to create a culture that values voting and participating in our democracy. You have tremendous influence - over your friends, families and many young minds. Here's how to respond to some of the most frequent reasons people give for not voting.

"I'm really not into politics."

This isn't "politics" - it's our kids. Our elected officials make real decisions that affect you, your school and your students. Local school board members, who are elected by voters, can decide whether to approve or renew your school's petition and what facilities are offered to house the school. State legislators decide how much money to budget for education, which programs get funded and which don't and pass laws that affect all schools.

"I don't vote - all the candidates are equally lousy so one's as good as another."

A key part of our work at CCSA is to be the eyes and ears of charter schools in Sacramento and to help our school members get their voices heard about key laws and programs that affect them. A big piece of that is educating legislators, many of whom might be new to Sacramento and not know much about our public school system, much less charter schools.

Most of the time, we're going to them asking for help. Elections are a unique time when they come to community groups and voters asking for their support. Now is the time to hold incumbents accountable for their record and to ask new candidates where there stand on key issues.

"One vote doesn't make any difference."

Countless elections have been decided by just dozens of votes. With a tough budget, elected officials have to make tough decisions about how to spend limited dollars and the squeaky wheel gets the grease. If we don't stand up and speak out and vote, they'll only be responsive to those who do.

In 2010, less than half of eligible voters cast a ballot in the governor's race. The number of voters who come out to vote in local elections is often very low, which means that your vote actually ends up counting even more.

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