Slated to "kick off" the third week of every September and run throughout the school year, the America's Legislators Back to School Program gives elected officials in all 50 states the opportunity to meet personally with their young constituents and to answer questions, share ideas, listen to concerns and impart a greater understanding of the legislative processes necessary for developing effective public policy and engaged citizens.
Sponsored by the National Conference of State Legislatures, the program is designed to teach young people--the nation's future voters and leaders--what it's like to be a state legislator: the processes, the pressures, and the debate, negotiation and compromise that are the very fabric of representative democracy. The program is emphasized as a bipartisan event. Legislators of both political parties are urged to participate in this national event and help bring civics to life for young people.
As part of the Trust for Representative Democracy's civic education campaign, NCSL introduced the program in 1999, as a one-day event, to provide a contemporary approach for engaging the American student population in understanding the value of democracy. It was a great success and was enthusiastically received by both legislators and schools. The program was so productive and compelling that it was expanded into a one-week event in 2001 and a year long program in 2005. Every year, more than 1,300 state lawmakers visit an estimated 320,000 students in their classrooms.
Legislative leaders in each state have appointed state legislative coordinators who are responsible for developing and implementing state specific plans. Coordinators serve as liaisons with NCSL, assist in the distribution of materials and help evaluate the program. The program has received wide support from premier education associations and organizations.
Publication and video resource materials for elementary, middle and high school students developed specifically for the America's Legislators Back to School Program are available to legislators for use in the classroom. These age-appropriate booklets and short videos explain that disagreement is a natural part of the legislative process, that debate, negotiation and compromise are necessary, and that students' chances of being heard are better when they join with a group of people who share their views. Online resource materials include talking points about legislatures and the legislative process, suggestions for age-group appropriate activities with students and lesson plans for teachers to use.
By entering the classroom and listening to students' perspectives, legislators are able to initiate a dialogue while letting American youth know that their ideas count.