State Advocacy Leadership Forces: A New State Trend

My job as State Advocacy Engagement Manager for NAfME is to help state music education associations (MEAs) position themselves to be successful advocates for music education. To that end, I have worked with many states throughout the past year, and I’ve seen all of them do incredible work. At some point, most MEAs have asked this question: “What can we do to make our members and our association proactive advocates instead of reactive advocates?” A recent trend to establish more proactive advocacy is the creation of state-based Advocacy Leadership Forces.

The existing NAfME Advocacy Leadership Force (ALF) is a nationwide network of advocacy representatives from all 50 states. Its members are appointed by their MEA leadership to take a leading role in advocacy and serve as NAfME points of contact for state-based advocacy initiatives. But what if we were to take that framework of a coalition representing all corners of the country and apply it to the state level? That was the question first asked by Andi Hasley, West Virginia MEA (WVMEA) Advocacy Chair and the ALF representative for West Virginia. She thought that this notion of a proactive, state-based coalition representing all districts of the state would help the association raise its profile and become more influential in education policy in West Virginia. Hasley applied for a CMA Foundation State Advocacy Grant on behalf of WVMEA, asking for funding to implement this idea, and was awarded a grant in 2019. Said Hasley, “After two years of participating in NAfME’s Hill Day, WVMEA leadership felt confident that it was time for our organization to become more visible within our state and local governments but were unsure where to start. With help from NAfME and funding from CMA, WVMEA was able to host our first advocacy day at our state capital. This day raised the profile of our organization significantly within the state capital. As successful as this day was, we realized more work was needed at the local level by people in each geographic area of the state. And so, the WVMEA Advocacy Leadership Force was formed.”

After the success of West Virginia, other states took notice and sought to create their own state ALF networks. In North Dakota, President Brian Saylor of the North Dakota Music Educators Association (NDMEA) thought this would be a great project to bring to his state and secured a grant in 2020 to create a North Dakota ALF. Saylor is also the NAfME ALF rep for North Dakota and saw the merit of creating a built-in grassroots coalition in his state. He is excited to see this group’s work get started. “We believe that having a statewide ALF in partnership with the NAfME ALF will position NDMEA to expand our influence to accomplish pro-music ed policy objectives in the state of North Dakota as well as on a national level,” said Saylor in ND’s grant proposal.

Louisiana Music Educators Association (LMEA) was able to implement this idea without grant funding. LMEA President Scotty Walker and President-Elect Brett Babineaux identified enthusiastic advocates amongst LMEA membership and brought them together to create the L-ALF, or the Louisiana Advocacy Leadership Force. President Walker appointed Ginny Medina-Hamilton as the NAfME ALF representative and head of the L-ALF, who has some great ideas about how to mobilize this group to become more effective and influential. Though the group is still in its infancy, one of their most exciting accomplishments to date meeting with the First Lady of Louisiana, Donna Edwards, and her team. The L-ALF and LMEA leadership met with a few members of the First Lady’s team to plan a meeting about the state of arts education in Louisiana and how it relates to the First Lady’s initiative of Music and Movement. “Having LMEA represented at the table as a driving force in this initiative was surely an honor and a step in the right direction for our organization,” said Medina-Hamilton.

This new trend in state-based advocacy has been thrilling to watch unfold. The vision of a nationwide coalition of music education advocates is now closer than ever to being realized, thanks to the hard-working and enthusiastic members of federated state associations. As schools adopt new methods and media in education, proactive advocacy is even more essential to ensuring access to music as part of a well-rounded education that supports students in their social-emotional development. A state-based ALF is a great way to help position your MEA to accomplish this shared goal, and NAfME can help create one for your state. If you are interested in a state-based ALF in your state, contact me at mattb@nafme.org.