Welcome to the first edition of “Lobbying Insider,” a new recurring feature in MEA Voice to give members a behind-the-scenes look at MEA’s legislative advocacy.
By David Michelson and Christina Canfield, MEA Lobbyists
MEA lobbyists have analyzed data from an MEA member survey regarding teacher evaluations. The lobbyists have worked hard to find common ground with Republican lawmakers willing to push legislation on these priorities:
Keeping “student growth” as a percentage of educator evaluations at 25 percent instead of increasing to 40 next year.
Funding more and better training for administrators on new evaluation systems.
Pushing districts to use alternative or locally developed assessment methods for measuring student growth in the evaluations of educators who teach non-core, non-tested subject areas.
Stay tuned for developments on this issue—and how you can help.
Members often say to us, “I could never do what you do.”
They think engaging in political struggle with lawmakers at the state Capitol every day would be too brutal, or depressing, or soul-destroying, or ___________. You can fill in the blank. It is true—our jobs can be immensely frustrating. On other days, we experience hope, progress, and accomplishment.
But even on the most challenging days, the work we do is vital—and we cannot do it alone.
That is why we are writing this new column. We routinely hear the same questions when we meet members at local association meetings and MEA conferences, and it is gratifying to give them a glimpse inside the often hidden work we do.
One question we frequently hear—“How did you survive the passage of Right to Work?”—always gets the same answer. Our hardest day as lobbyists was not that day in late 2012, during a rushed lame duck session, when legislators passed RTW in a union-busting attempt. The next day was tougher.
The next morning we had to return to the capitol building and meet with legislators who voted for the RTW bills. We had to be cordial with them, because we needed their “No” votes later that day on two more bills we knew would negatively impact public education.
Yes, that was a difficult day. And yes, we understand why some of our members would not want to be lobbyists. Yet we need our members to be politically active, or public education as we know it will cease to exist.
In fact, as distasteful as it might seem, we need our army of MEA member lobbyists to walk a mile in our dress shoes through the marble halls of power—to understand the realities we face every day, so they can be most effective as part of our lobbying team advocating for educators and public schools.
One of those challenging realities in our lives is the necessity of interacting with lawmakers whose beliefs and actions may not support our legislative priorities.
Most of us recognize that the world is not black-and-white, all-or-nothing. It is mostly gray. Sure, there are some absolutes, but we can often see two sides of an issue. However, many people lose that insight when it comes to politics.
When passion for the cause gets in the way of rational thinking, it can lead some to write off any legislator as the opposition if he or she does not vote the right way on every issue.
That does not work in lobbying. Instead, when lawmakers vote against us, we need to agree to disagree and work to find an issue where we share a common belief or can engage in constructive dialogue.
One example is a meeting we had in February with a new legislator who was a former teacher. We anticipated there would be many issues we could work on together. As we talked, our hopes turned to disappointment as we disagreed on issue after issue. We were about to give up and politely end the meeting when student testing came into the conversation. Wow. We agree 100 percent on this issue. You can bet we will go back and talk again as we work on that problem.
If you have read this far, we are asking you to do the same thing. Be our allies in the lobbying effort for public education. Establish relationships with your legislators. Become a resource to them. Do not give up or fall into the all-or-nothing trap. How do you accomplish this?
- Listen carefully.
- Be positive.
- Stay focused.
- Speak concisely.
- Tell your story.
- Put yourself in the other person’s shoes.
- Remember you are trying to win them over, not win the debate.
- Understand there are no permanent friends and no permanent enemies.
- Know when to stop and agree to disagree.
You do not have to be an expert to be effective. You know more than you think you do. Plus, we have tons of resources to help you stay informed and up-to-date on the legislature. Perhaps the most important step is to sign up to get Capitol Comments. If you do not already receive it, go to www.MEA.org/Signup.
Other great resources for staying current on education issues and legislation:
- MEA Voice magazine
- Bill Tracker at www.MEA.org/legislation
- Twitter and Text messaging (Text 40404 with the message FollowDrMichelson)
- Michigan Education Association on Facebook
Public education is under attack. There are very powerful forces out there trying to privatize it. Do not let the politics get you down. Let the strength of all of us working together lift you up.