California BATs Rock the House (of Representatives)
By Kristin Vogel, California BAT and member of the BATs Leadership Team
Over the course of two days, the small California BAT contingent held meetings with
sixteen out of the fifty-three Representatives from the Golden State! Even though we were
drained physically and mentally at the end of each day, it was a wonderful learning experience,
and many relationships were established that we hope will be in place for some time to come.
Here is a brief write up of our meetings, and what we hope to follow up on.
Meeting #1: Julia Steinberger, Senior Legislative Assistant to Rep. Mark Takano (District
41). This was the first of many times during our appointments that we heard the phrase
“preaching to the choir”. It was great to get such a good response from Ms. Steinberger. She
advised us to “work on the younger/less experienced members” of Congress, and offered
support. Our members in the 41st will definitely be following up with Rep. Takano as he heads
home during recess.
Meeting #2: Kelvin Lum, Legislative Aide to Rep. Ami Bera (District 7). Rep. Bera’s office
was tiny and cramped, so we met with Mr. Lum in the hallway. He seemed preoccupied, and at
some point I noticed he had glazed over and was focused on other things. As a product of
public education from K-medical school, Rep. Bera states that he is pro-public school and
anti-voucher/school choice. Mr. Lum was not able to give us an exact stance on his boss’ view
of charters, but stressed several times that Rep. Bera loves public education. This was a neutral
at best meeting, but I will give Mr. Lum the benefit of the doubt due to our meeting place.
Meeting #3: Annie Nguyen, Legislative Assistant to Rep. Alan Lowenthal (District 47).
Ms. Nguyen was unsure about her boss’ stance on charters and vouchers, and we agreed to
follow up with her about this. Rep. Lowenthal is a huge proponent of civil and human rights, and
we used this to tie in the issue about standardized testing and the inequities it perpetuates in
our schools. Ms. Nguyen said that Rep. Lowenthal fully supports Early Childhood Education and
Head Start, and we had a discussion on the school lunch programs in our schools.
Meeting #4: Nicole MacDougall, Legislative Correspondent to Rep. Nancy Pelosi (District
12). I am a constituent of Rep. Pelosi, and this lunchtime meeting was supposed to be with
another staffer. It was passed onto Ms. MacDougall due to the debate on the House Floor of
H.R. 1599. Ms. MacDougall was extremely pleasant and stressed that Rep. Pelosi is strongly
anti-charter and anti-standardized testing. She was the first aide to bring up grade-span
testing as an alternative to yearly testing. As a constituent I also received the email of the Rep.’s
scheduler in San Francisco, so I hope to have a meeting with someone at her home office
Meeting #5: Ellen Hamilton, Legislative Aide to Rep. Judy Chu (District 27). This was an
extremely productive meeting; Rep. Chu is a psychologist by trade, and has authored and
sponsored several bills that stress the importance of community based wraparound services in
schools, and that students’ mental health needs are met. Sandy Goodwick, a member of the
BAT/AFT Quality of Life in the Workplace Survey Team, went over the result of their work. Ms.
Hamilton gave us suggestions as to what points to speak of to other aides, and made
connections to appointments we had scheduled the next day. I am so looking forward to our CA
BATs following up with Rep. Chu’s office during recess, and thanking her for her hard work to
promote mental health awareness in schools.
Meeting #6: Matt McMurray, Senior Legislative Assistant to Rep. Anna Eshoo (District
18). I don’t think we were at the top of our game at this meeting. It was towards the end of a
long day, and Mr. McMurray was definitely more interested in listening rather than speaking. I
wanted there to be more of a dialogue, but we did most of the talking. He was very pleasant and
respectful, and gladly took the additional information we provided him, but we did not
accomplish a whole lot.
Meeting #7: Jocelyn Rivera-Olivas, Legislative Assistant to Rep. Janice Hahn (District
44). I’m glad we had a productive meeting at the end of day one. When we first asked Ms.
Rivera-Olivas about her boss’ stances on charters, she replied that she believes Rep Hahn
“sees the value in charters, in that they provide choice”. We definitely educated her! It was
wonderful to have two teachers from Southern California, Sandy Goodwick and Zeena Pliska,
there to illustrate the harm that charters have done to public education. Ms. Pliska spoke about
the Green Dot charters, and the damage that Parent Revolution has done with trying to enact
the Parent Trigger law. Ms. Rivera-Olivas asked so many questions, and took copious amounts
of notes. Even though we did not agree at the beginning I think we were able to help her see the
reality, which I hope she will pass onto Rep. Hahn. Great way to end the day.
Thanks to Marla Kilfoyle, Sandy Goodwick, and Zeena Pliska for attending Day One
meetings with me!
Our second day saw our lobby team shrink a bit, as Ms. Goodwick and Ms. Pliska had
other events to attend to. I was accompanied by Owen Jackman, also a member of the BAT
Leadership Team and a Sacramento area Special Education Teacher.
Meeting #8: We stopped in for a meeting unannounced, but since Ms. Pliska is a
constituent of Ms. Waters, we were granted a sit down with an aide (I have lost her business
card). She was extremely gracious, sitting and conversing with us for about 25 minutes. We
discussed the school to prison pipeline, and parents’ right to opt their children out of testing. I
will be following up with my other lobby team members to see if we can get her info.
Meeting #9: Angela Ebiner, Legislative Assistant to Rep. Zoe Lofgren (District 19). This
was a very unorganized meeting, as I met with Ms. Ebiner right next to Mr. Jackman speaking to
someone else. I am not sure if I really got to know what the Congresswoman thinks or if what
Ms. Ebiner was just sharing her personal opinions. She was somewhat combative regarding opt
out, and believes that students need to take whatever tests are prescribed by the law. She
(once again, not sure if this was her or Rep. Lofgren’s opinion) was also convinced that charter
schools are beneficial, in that they give “choice”. I could not find anything on her related to TFA,
but she has certainly taken at least a beginner’s course in EdReform 101.
Meeting #10: Victoria Coats, Legislative Assistant to Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard (District 40).
At the beginning of the meeting, Ms. Coats let us know that she “used to” be a teacher; she
had taught for two years in New Orleans and two years somewhere in Texas. I looked over to
Owen and red flags were flying all over the place. For a Congresswoman who is as progressive
and pro-labor as Lucille Roybal-Allard to have an aide tell us that “our hands our tied, we are in
the minority in Congress and there isn’t much we can do that haven’t already tried” was
distressing. Then she came right out and said she was a TFA alum. This meeting was a bust; I
am sure she ripped up her notes or was just scribbling. I decided not to leave a packet of info;
instead to send it directly to her district office or have a BAT deliver it there. It would not have
made it past the clutches of a TFAer.
Meeting #11: Molly Fishman, Legislative Assistant for Rep. Jackie Speier (District 14). I
teach in Rep. Speier’s district, and received contact information for her scheduler to possibly
arrange a school visit. I think this is something we need to do on a regular basis so that our
elected officials see our schools with their own eyes. Ms. Fishman was great and said many of
the things that BATs believes before we could mention it. Rep. Speier is staunchly anti-charter
and pro-public education; she believes that standardized tests are used too much, and Ms.
Fishman questioned the age appropriateness of CCSS in ECE classrooms! A definite ally.
Meeting #12: Megan Sussman, Legislative Assistant for Rep. Doris Matsui (District 6).
Ms. Sussman is a Master’s of Public Health, and Rep. Matsui definitely sees the connection
between mental health and school success. Owen teaches in Rep. Matsui’s district, and is
familiar with many of her stances. This was another “preaching to the choir” meeting, but Owen
put it perfectly by saying that the people need to tell their Representatives when they are doing
something they agree with, not just when they are angry. Even elected officials need positive
Meeting #13: Megan Price, Legislative Assistant for Rep. Ted Lieu (District 33). Rep.
Lieu was just sworn in this past January, so he is still developing positions and stances. Ms.
Price was very open to developing a continuing dialogue between the office and California
BATs. He is mostly focused on access to higher education and Pell Grants, but just a few weeks
ago wrote a letter to Sec. Duncan stressing the need to arts education. We appreciated that and
will definitely follow up.
Meeting #14: Jeff Milbourne, Albert Einstein Distinguished Education Fellow for Rep.
Mike Honda (District 17). This was possibly the best meeting of our entire lobbying session. Jeff
is a high school physics teacher who has been working in Rep. Honda’s office for a year on a
fellowship. He was so open to hearing what we had to say, and it aligned completely with what
the Congressman believes in. He gave us some tips on things to look out for. He and I have
already been exchanging emails back and forth regarding education issues. He will be moving
out to California later this year; we are hoping to recruit him to BATs!
Meeting #15: Sam Jordan, Legislative Assistant for Rep. Eric Swalwell (District 15). Rep.
Swalwell is one of the newer Congressman, and Owen has some connections to his office. We
definitely want to work with him to develop his stances on education. Rep. Swalwell recently
wrote a letter demanding that IDEA be fully funded; which was wonderful news for the two SpEd
teachers at the meeting! Mr. Jordan was extremely open and considerate, listening, and asking
Meeting #16: Emma Mehrabi, Legislative Assistant for Rep. Barbara Lee (District 13).
Ms. Mehrabi is a social worker, so we appreciated that she handles education issues for the
Congresswoman. We had a very productive meeting at the end of the day, discussed issues
relating to race, inequities, funding, the problem of charter schools in Oakland, and the
privatization movement that is threatening public education. Ms. Mehrabi’s ears were open and
the dialogue was very helpful. I am hoping some of my East Bay BATs can schedule a meeting
locally during recess.
What is next? Bringing this work back to the California BAT page, encouraging our
members to schedule follow up appointments with their member of Congress, and continuing
the dialogue and relationship. During lunch on Friday, I realized that we need to bring this local
to California. I propose that in 2016 California BATs swarm to Sacramento for a day of lobbying
with our State Senators and Assemblypersons. We need to make sure that education in the
Golden State remains free, accessible to all, and PUBLIC!