Talk to the Decisionmakers
Education issues are complex and are administered and funded at different levels of government. Therefore, familiarizing yourself with who makes decisions and when those decisions are made is important for successful advocacy.
Who Makes the Decisions:
The federal government has recently increased its role in education decisions, with the passage of the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB). Yet, even with Title I programs, programs for children with disabilities, and NCLB, the federal government's share of total education spending in the U.S. is approximately 8.5 percent.
The only federal program that specifically addresses gifted learners is the Jacob Javits Gifted and Talented Students Education Act, a small program that funds the National Research Center on the Gifted and Talented as well as demonstration grants and statewide grants to help identify and support underserved gifted learners. Other federally supported programs that can intersect with state and local programs for gifted students are those that support the Advanced Placement (AP) and International Baccalaureate (IB) programs, as well as grants that support advanced teacher training in math and science.
In the U.S., states have the largest stake in and responsibility for public education - they finance approximately 46 percent of all education spending. Many states also make the greater part of the policy decisions on gifted and talented education including decisions about whether to mandate gifted education services at the district level; whether to require teacher certification in gifted education; decisions about identification procedures, including at what grade/age gifted education programming begins; age and course requirements for high school diplomas; and whether there will be state funding to districts to provide services.
Local school districts are the source of approximately 37 percent of all education spending. Many key decisions that affect gifted and talented learners are made at the local level. In some states, state law and policy specifies what districts must do for gifted learners, in others, the states require programs and services for gifted learners, but leave the specifics to districts. In still other states, districts make decisions in the absence of state law, policy, or funding. Local gifted education decisions often include the following:
- in which grades gifted education services will be offered;
- in what subjects services are offered;
- identification procedures for determining eligibility for services;
- the curriculum used;
- manner in which the services will be delivered, i.e: whether to offer pull-out programs, magnet schools, online learning, flexible grouping, or grade skipping;
- whether regular education teachers and school counselors receive in-service professional development on the needs of gifted learners; and
- whether the school or district offers after-school advanced learning opportunities or participates in state or national academic or arts competitions.
Timing your Advocacy
Timing is one of the most important elements to keep in mind when advocating for gifted education services. State legislatures and local school boards (and to a lesser degree, Congress) operate on a calendar that dictates when key decisions will be made. Bill introduction, committee hearings, which offer the public the chance to have input, budget hearings, amendments, and votes all occur on a schedule that is unique to each legislature or school board. In some cases the time table is compressed because a legislature is in session for a limited amount of time each year. In other cases, a school board is making decisions in the winter and spring about the next year's school budget. It is vitally important that advocates know the operating calendar for the various groups with whom they are working (local, state, federal, so they have opportunitites to provide input at the appropriate time on key decisions affecting gifted education.
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