State Legislative Liaison: Luxury or Necessity?

The views expressed in this post do not necessarily reflect the views of AACTE.

In the face of continuing criticism of teacher preparation, the Ohio Association of Colleges for Teacher Education (OACTE) has worked to advocate for sensible teacher preparation policy. Although advocacy was not something many in OACTE envisioned would factor into their higher education careers, we have come to believe that advocacy is not only important, but essential, to the continued health and evolution of teacher education work.

Ohio has a long history of collaboration in teacher education, such as through the monthly meetings of State University Education Deans and the Ohio Association of Private Colleges of Teacher Education to discuss emerging policy and perspectives. Twice annually, educator preparation providers meet for a statewide conference. Since 2009, one feature of the spring conference is Day on the Square, modeled on AACTE’s Day on the Hill, for teacher educators to visit with state legislators.

For several years, the Ohio Day on the Square aimed to provide an inviting environment for teacher educators to dip their toes in the advocacy waters. The focus was telling success stories, dispelling myths about teacher preparation, and developing relationships with legislators. Participants were provided with talking points and encouraged to highlight successes at their universities.

While we felt positive about these efforts, we always felt one step behind legislative efforts. Occasionally we learned about a bill far enough in advance to formulate a position; more often there was too much momentum for our voice to make much difference. Rather than shaping legislation, we were always reacting.

We sought to become more proactive. We needed to know about legislation while it was still being shaped in committee. We needed more information, more quickly.

Our first effort was to subscribe to Gongwer, an online legislative tracking service. We quickly found that we could not sift through the flood of information to identify relevant legislation and keep track of it. Next we conducted a study to identify strategies and costs for lobbyists. We looked into piggybacking onto lobbyists for K-12 organizations, but we decided we needed someone specifically informed about teacher preparation issues. Yet the cost of hiring our own dedicated lobbyist seemed prohibitive.

In fall 2016, we finally took action by hiring a retired teacher educator, Ann Shelly, as a “legislative liaison” to monitor our Gongwer subscription and produce legislative updates for broad dissemination. By monitoring the status of bills and the agendas of key committees, Shelly has kept us ahead of the curve. We have been able to develop position statements, schedule opportunities to provide testimony to committees, and work alongside legislators in crafting new legislation. Some of our successes enabled by Shelly’s work include these:

  • Advocating for the removal of language allowing for-profit alternative teacher preparation providers to operate in Ohio
  • Working with legislators and superintendents to tweak legislation about licensure grade-level bands
  • Proposing the creation of a representative teacher preparation standards board

The more work Shelly has done, the more we realize the value of her services. At our March 2018 board meeting, members discussed not whether to continue this expense but whether to increase our dues to increase funding for this important work. Within 2 years, our legislative liaison has gone from being a luxury to being a necessity.

Brian P. Yusko is associate dean of academic affairs in the College of Education and Human Services at Cleveland State University (OH).

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Brian P. Yusko

Associate Dean of Academic Affairs, College of Education and Human Services, Cleveland State University