Interacting with Candidates

Today's candidates are tomorrow's policymakers. Make sure afterschool issue stay in the conversation by educating, engaging, and communicating with candidates—and sharing their positions and platforms with voters.

In this section we'll describe three key tools:

  1. Educate: Candidate Resource Guide on Afterschool
  2. Engage: Candidate forums
  3. Ask: Candidate surveys and questionnaires

Why get candidates on the record about afterschool?

If a candidate goes on record as being supportive of afterschool, it will help you hold him or her accountable after the election.

Moreover, asking questions about afterschool in public settings will help ensure that these issues are included in the political conversation, while prompting candidates to take a formal stand on afterschool; this is especially important considering that most candidates do not include afterschool policy in their formal campaign platforms.

Be sure to phrase your questions in an unbiased manner, to avoid indicating that there is a “correct” answer—otherwise, your question (combined with the candidates’ responses) may be construed as an endorsement of the candidate who provided the “right” answer.

Candidate Resource Guide on Afterschool

We want candidates to know that supporting afterschool is important to voters. Afterschool keeps kids safe, inspires them to learn and helps America’s working families. These three key points resonate with voters of every kind.

  • For every child in an afterschool program, three more waiting to get in.
  • The parents of 24.6 million children would send their child to an afterschool program if one were available.
  • Eighty-seven percent of parents support public funding for afterschool programs, an all-time high.

The Candidate Resource Guide on Afterschool provides a primer on the afterschool issues for candidates, including additional data on public support for afterschool, program supply and demand, and research on afterschool outcomes for youth, families and communities. Download the Candidate Resource Guide on Afterschool, then mail or email it to all candidates for a particular office and their advisors with a personal letter discussing how the issue affects your area. If you are able, tailor the guide to include data specific to your locality.

Candidate Forums

Candidate forums present an excellent opportunity to raise awareness among candidates and the community about the need for and importance of afterschool programs. If there isn’t already a candidate event happening in your community, you can organize one! As always, all candidates must be treated equally and neutrally. In no case should an organization consult with one candidate about his or her availability before setting the date of its event, unless all candidates are consulted and a mutually convenient date is chosen.

Give yourself ample time to plan, make sure that you have adequate staffing and/or partnerships to pull together all of the pieces, and give the candidates plenty of notice as to the date and location of the forum. It is very important to invite all viable candidates for a particular office in the district where the forum or meeting is held and do everything that you can to generate a large audience. Afterschool will likely be one of several issues discussed; in fact, the IRS rules require that a forum be on a variety of topics, and not on a single, narrow topic. Collaborate with other organizations as much as possible.

Forum Formats

Panel and Moderator

Questions for candidates can be asked by a moderator, a panel of stakeholders (afterschool providers, school officials, parents or youth), or from the audience. Be aware that the IRS says that having questions from a neutral moderator, such as a journalist, helps to demonstrate that the event is unbiased; but any moderator, as long as they show no bias, is legal.

You can also combine these elements. For example, have a moderator or panel lead off the questioning and then open it up to the audience. Be sure to give all candidates equal amounts of time to respond. Asking the same set of questions to each candidate is also a safe bet. Questioners should not indicate their approval or disapproval of any candidates’ answers.


For a more debate-style format, send the candidates questions prior to the event that elicit specific responses. Candidates can answer these questions and then move on to those that arise from the audience and moderator during the debate.

Forum Participants


Send out personal letters inviting candidates three months prior to holding the forum. Emphasize that this is a nonpartisan event put on by the afterschool community in the candidate’s district/city/town. Include information about the impact of afterschool programs in the district. Follow up with candidates each month after sending the invitation using different methods of contact (phone, face-to-face, email). If you can only get one candidate, the event has a higher chance of looking like an endorsement, so you should probably cancel if only one candidate agrees to participate. Also, ask all candidates not to bring their campaign materials, otherwise the IRS might mistake it for a campaign rally!


Select a moderator who can serve in a nonpartisan role. Ideally, this would be someone who is well respected within your community, such as a local journalist. Get a commitment from this person early-on and prepare them in advance (review with them, do practice runs). Have a back-up in mind.


This should be a staff person with the main objective to keep the forum on schedule and enforce any predetermined time limits on candidate responses if applicable. This person should be able to interrupt people in order to keep time.

Forum Planning Timeline

The earlier you make contact with the candidates, the better. Communicate with a representative from each campaign and request meetings to brief the candidates. Be sure to:

  • Document all attempts at communication, successful or otherwise.
  • Attempt to contact all the candidates, regardless of party affiliation.

Candidate questionnaire on afterschool and related issues

Candidate surveys and questionnaires are another way to get candidate views on the record. You can also use candidates’ survey responses to share an objective view of the candidates with afterschool supporters.

For example, re-printing candidates’ complete responses—and noting who did not respond—can provide advocates with information about where the candidates stand on these important issues. Make sure you have given each candidate for that particular office the same opportunity to answer.

The Questions
  1. What are your views on access to afterschool and summer learning programs? What actions might you consider based on your views?
  2. Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) learning has become a major focus in efforts to boost international competitiveness and prepare for the 21st century economy. What are your views on this issue and on the role out-of-school time can play?
  3. The traditional school day and a variety of supplementary programs are available to support low-income student’s access to meals and academic enrichment during the school year. But this access decreases substantially over the summer. How would you approach this from a policy perspective?
  4. Given a growing epidemic of childhood obesity, what types of opportunities might help children be physically active in the hours outside the school day? Do you think these types of opportunities ought to be supported or encouraged, and if so, how?
  5. Some research suggests low-income children face an “opportunity gap,” i.e., different resources available to children based on income, such as private tutoring, access to sports and arts, social connections etc. Do you see such a gap? If so, what would you do to reduce this gap?
  6. If elected, how would you help youth engage in positive behaviors and constructive activities that may help prevent their engaging in more risky behaviors that lead to more negative outcomes? What can our country do to change interactions among youth and law enforcement?