How to Testify 101
State legislators have introduced hundreds of education-focused bills over the past three years. As a state resident, you have the right to share your thoughts and opinions on the bills up for consideration in your state legislature. One great way to do that is by sharing public testimony.
Testifying may seem daunting if you’ve never done it before, or if public speaking makes your palms sweaty (if you’re in the latter group, you’re not alone—public speaking repeatedly ranks one of the top fears among Americans!).
The fight for parental rights in education would not have gotten this far without dedicated and diligent advocates like you. You are the reason why legislators across the country have introduced—and even passed!—parental rights bills and legislation countering divisive race and gender ideology in schools. At the local, state, and national level, you’ve played a huge role in pushing good policy over the finish line.
So don’t fret! We broke down the process into five simple steps. It’s really not that different from speaking at your school board meeting—though it might take a little extra planning.
We hope this resource will help you advocate for your children and your schools.
First, figure out what bills have been introduced during this state legislative session. Use your state legislature’s website to read through this session’s bills
What’s a legislative session? And how long does it last? A legislative session is the period of time that a state legislature convenes to consider, debate, and pass legislation. Every state legislature’s calendar is different—use this resource from the National Conference of State Legislatures to check when your state’s legislature is in session.
And what’s a bill, exactly? A bill is a formally introduced draft of legislation that, if voted for by both chambers of the legislature and signed by the governor, becomes law.
Found a bill you want to support or oppose? Read it thoroughly. Just because a bill covers a topic you might be interested in does not make it a good bill.
Find the bill’s sponsor—the lawmaker(s) who introduced the bill—and locate his or her email address using your state legislature’s website. The website should have an individual page for each representative and senator, which typically includes his or her email address and office phone number. The page may also have email addresses for the legislator’s staff. This contact information may come in handy when you sign up to testify.
What’s a sponsor? The sponsor is the state legislator who introduced the bill. Bills can have co-sponsors, or multiple legislators who introduce the legislation. Sometimes, legislators can sign on as co-sponsors after the bill is introduced.
Ask yourself: Why is the bill important to you and your family? Would it cover incidents you’ve seen in your own school district? In your county? In your state? If you have a personal story, feel free to add that to your testimony, but keep it brief!
PDE Action’s notes:
If a bill “bans” a certain topic, like critical race theory, ask: How does it ensure the same ideas don’t pop up under a new name? Does the bill specify the types of lessons or ideas that would be banned? Does the ban overreach or overshoot its desired target?
If a bill encourages financial or curriculum transparency, ask: Does it outline a process that school districts must follow? Who is responsible for ensuring school districts abide by the law? How does it affect a parent’s ability to view curriculum and school lessons?
If a bill outlines parental rights in education, ask: does the bill give parents the right to opt-in their children to lessons that discuss divisive race and gender ideology? Or surveys? Who would enforce the law, if passed?
Use your state legislature’s website to find the House, Senate, and committee calendars. Look for your bill on the calendars, or use the bill’s webpage to view the status of the bill.
First reading — the first formal presentation of a bill to the chamber in which it is introduced
Filed — a sponsor has submitted the bill in his or her respective chamber
Hearing — this is when the public can sign up to provide public comment on a bill
In committee — the bill has been assigned to a committee, which is a group of legislators assigned to work on a specific category of legislation (like commerce, agriculture, armed services, and education).
See another unfamiliar term? Use this term sheet from the National Conference of State Legislators
Bills move quickly. Once you’ve spotted a bill you want to speak on, be sure to check back daily, or at least at the beginning of every week, to see where the bill is headed.
The bill is headed to a committee hearing? Great! Note the date and…
3. Sign up
Check your state laws, using this National Council of State Legislatures website, to see whether you must attend a hearing in-person to give your testimony. Many states offer an option to testify virtually.
If you would like to speak virtually, be sure to register on your state website. If you have any challenges doing so, it’s typically good practice to reach out to the bill’s sponsor and his or her office. They can direct you to the right person or place to sign up.
Tip: Typically, you can find registration instructions on the committee calendar webpage.
If you would like to speak in-person, be sure to plan out your travel arrangements.
If you can’t speak in-person or virtually, legislatures typically allow you to submit a written testimony via email to the committee conducting the hearing on the bill. Again, reach out to the bill’s sponsor or the committee for more specific instructions.
4. Write your testimony
Begin by addressing the chair and vice chair of the committee, as well as the committee members as a whole. For example: “Chairwoman Smith, Minority Chairman O’Brian, and members of the House Education Committee…”
Give your name, and note that you live in the state. If you feel comfortable, state your county or school district.
Pick out your top three reasons (no more!) why you support or oppose the bill. State them clearly, and use facts, research, polling, and anecdotes to support your position. Use Parents Defending Education’s Indoctrination Map to give examples that speak to the importance of the bill.
If the bill addresses a subject area like divisive race ideology, gender ideology, parental rights in education, women’s sports and Title IX, or fiscal and curriculum transparency, read through Parents Defending Education and PDE Action resources. This can help you message the issue effectively and respectfully.
Tip: Stay on topic! If the bill is about parental rights, don’t read passages from library books you don’t want to see at your kid’s school. These are separate issues.
End by thanking the legislators for their time and consideration, and a short request to vote for or against the bill.
When you’re finished writing, leave the draft alone for a few hours to refresh your brain. Return to the draft to edit.
Read through your testimony several times. You want to feel comfortable enough with your words so you can look up at the representatives as you speak.
After you’re done writing and editing, print your testimony or write it out by hand. It’s more professional to read off of a paper than a phone or tablet.
Remember: Polite communication is the most effective. Focus on facts. Don’t name call, don’t use “straw man” tactics, and definitely do not use profane or crass language. Most importantly, treat every person as you would want them to treat you.
5. Now Testify
Arrive to the state capitol in plenty of time to find parking and locate the room in which you are testifying. If you signed up to speak virtually, log onto your link with plenty of time to account for technical problems.
The committee will allocate time for testimony on each bill it considers during the hearing. States or individual committees may do this differently. Those in favor of a bill may all go at once, followed by those against, or vice versa. A staffer may call on you by name if you registered to speak in advance. Just be sure that you are in the room and cognizant of how the meeting proceeds.
Tip: It may be helpful to read past meeting minutes on the committee’s calendar to familiarize yourself with past meeting agendas, if such information is available online.
Unfortunately, public testimony time may be cut short. You may have a three-minute time slot reduced to one minute. Or, you may be asked to simply say you are “for” or “against” the bill. Just be brief and respectful as asked, and if allowed, submit your written testimony to the correct committee member or staffer.
Note: Your public testimony may be added to the public record. Your name, and your testimony, may be recorded and saved online or in your state legislature’s files. Any email sent to a government official—including a state legislator—may be subject to public records request.
Now you’re ready to go testify!