I’m a registered lobbyist.
Sharing that piece of information with people I meet for the first time often provokes a spontaneous reaction that’s something akin to what I imagine I’d see were I to back away from a handshake while explaining that I’ve recently been exposed to the Ebola virus. Honest. The utterance, “I’m a lobbyist,” is consistently transmogrified into “I haven’t showered in a week,” in the ears of recipients. Mothers move subtly to protect their children. Sneers of disgust are only partially suppressed as people respond with the only word they appear capable of summoning: Really?
Really. In my case, I like to think that there are mitigating circumstances. I don’t dispense money. I am employed by the California Association of Private School Organizations, an association so diverse (and non-partisan) that its twenty-one member-organizations serve nonprofit private schools covering a spectrum spanning military academies to Society of Friends (Quaker) schools, and everything in between. Given CAPSO’s 501(c)(3) nonprofit status, I have no involvement in electoral politics. Because CAPSO’s bylaws require unanimity among its member-organizations before a formal position on pending legislation can be established, I’m rarely called upon to weigh in on the most controversial issues. So what do I do?
In short, I maintain a relationship with legislators, keep an eye on bills as they come down the pipeline, and do my best to protect and advance the interests of California’s broadly inclusive nonprofit, K-12 private school community. A great example of what I do is illustrated by a bill that’s currently making its way through the legislative process.
AB 141, authored by California State Assemblymember Susan Bonilla (D. – Concord) started as a bill that had nothing to do with private schools. In its “as introduced” version, the measure proposed that commencing with the 2016-17 school year, public school districts and county offices of education will be required to make beginning teacher induction programs available to all beginning public school teachers, at no cost to the teacher.
Would it have been neighborly for Assemblymember Bonilla to have extended AB 141’s proposed benefits to private school teachers? Sure. But given the refusal of fellow Assemblymembers to include beginning private school teachers in a contemporaneous measure – AB 337 (Jones-Sawyer) – a bill proposing a paltry $250 tax credit for out-of-pocket classroom expenses incurred by fulltime teachers during their first three years on the job, there was no chance of AB 141 extending a far more generous benefit to private school teachers. But I digress. The point is that in its original incarnation AB 141 had nothing to do with private schools.
On June 1, that changed. In an attempt to put teeth into the proposed law, Ms. Bonilla added the following (italicized) language to her bill:
“Commencing with hiring for the 2016-17 school year, and each school year thereafter, as condition for receiving Part A of Title II federal funds pursuant to the federal No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (20 U.S. C. Sec. 6301 et seq.) a school district, county office of education, or charter school that hires a beginning teacher shall provide that beginning teacher with a program of beginning teacher induction…”
That tweak produced a whole new ballgame. With the addition of the June 1 amendments, a public school district’s future receipt of its federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act Title II, Part A formula allocation for professional development programs and services would be conditioned upon compliance with Ms. Bonilla’s proposed state law. Because the federal Title II, Part A statute requires private school teachers and administrators to receive equitable professional development opportunities, a district’s failure to comply with AB 141’s provisions would have the effect of foreclosing the participation of private school educators in a federally funded program clearly intended to include them. Now, we had a problem on our hands.
I immediately phoned a contact in Assemblymember Bonilla’s office to bring the problem to the author’s attention. It must be said that Ms. Bonilla intended no harm to private school teachers. She has been sympathetic to our concerns in the past, and is the author of another current bill, AB 17, that’s supported by CAPSO. She was simply not fully aware of the federal law’s provisions and the deleterious ramifications her amendment held in the offing for private school educators. And, apparently, she needed some convincing.
Fortunately, CAPSO maintains an excellent relationship with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Non-Public Education. As soon as I laid out the problem, the ONPE’s superb staff went into action, bringing the matter to the USDE’s Title II office, and its Office of General Counsel. Within days, the feds had made telephone contact with a senior staff member in the California Department of Education’s Government Affairs Division, advising that they foresaw a problem with the amendment to AB 141. The CDE then contacted Assemblymember Bonilla’s office, and the bill, which had been scheduled to be heard before the Senate Education Committee last week, was pulled from the agenda, presumably to address our concerns.
Whether or not that’s what will happen only time will tell. But now you know a little more about what lobbyists do.
Update (7/11/2015): On July 9, 2015, AB 141 was amended in such a manner as to remove the provisions we found objectionable. The amended version of the bill can be viewed, here. The deleted sections appear on page 7, lines 16-18, and lines 23-27.