Education Lobbies Shift Focus to States
Washington--Life changed this year for August W. Steinhilber, associate executive director and general counsel for the National School Boards Association.
In December, Mr. Steinhilber was the chief federal lobbyist for the nsba A month later, with an expanded office, twice the staff, and an annual budget of more than $500,000, he became the head of a new nsba unit called the Center for State Legislation and School Law.
"We came to the conclusion here that the action had shifted from the federal level to the state level," Mr. Steinhilber says.
With increasing frequency, education lobbyists here are finding that national education policy no longer emanates exclusively from Washington. And while some may lack the new title and staff Mr. Steinhilber has at his disposal, all have turned their attention and resources to new horizons.
The shift of focus from Capitol Hill to the state capitals is a trend born of necessity as well as opportunity, say leaders of national education organizations.
They credit the current educational-reform movement--sparked by a federal report but led by state governors and legislators--with creating a "significant" increase in the number of requests they receive from state and local affiliates for help in developing effective lobbying campaigns at the state level.
At the same time, they add, the Reagan Administration's freeze on domestic spending has changed the whole nature of education lobbying at the federal level.
"With a federal deficit of $200 billion a year," says Mr. Steinhilber, "you don't have to be clairvoyant to see that there isn't going to be any new money or new programs. If there's going to be new money, it's going to be at the state level."
Federal Picture Changed
From the vantage point of John F. Jennings, education counsel for the U.S. House of Representatives' Education and Labor Committee, education lobbyists in the nation's capital are as numerous and as active as ever. But their approach to Washington politics has changed considerably since President Reagan took office.
The President "has created a permanent squeeze on education funding that prevents us from even staying even," says Mr. Jennings. The education lobbyists' fight now, he says, is "just to maintain what's there."
"Unfortunately," he adds, "they're losing."
Gregory Humphrey, director of the American Federation of Teachers' department of legislation, agrees. "What we're doing right now is fighting take-aways," he says.
But the workload for Washington lobbyists has not diminished, Mr. Humphrey adds, because of the "defensive" work education groups must engage in. He cites such on4going campaigns as those to block the Administration's tax-reform proposal eliminating the deductibility of state and local taxes and to prevent passage of a new voucher bill expected from the Education Department.
Because of these changes, Mr. Steinhilber, like many other Washington representatives of national education groups, will be spending little of his time in the halls of Congress this year and most of it giving information to state and local nsba affiliates and helping them with their lobbying activities. His new office, he says, was created to give "national leadership and coordination and assistance to each of our states."
The nsba leadership, says Mr. Steinhilber, has realized the need to watch state-level policymaking because of the impact state reform movements are having on the development of "national" education policy.
"An idea that starts in South Carolina may soon be in Minnesota," he notes.
The new nsba center provides state and local affiliates with the research they may need on educational issues being considered in state legislatures, such as merit-pay for teachers, certification of parochial schools, and increased graduation requirements.
This month, more than 30 nsba affiliates will meet with Mr. Steinhilber and his staff in Washington to discuss such issues and plan strategies for bringing the administrators' agenda to their state boards of education and legislatures.
But Mr. Steinhilber's new duties stretch beyond the lobbying func8tions. The center also serves as a resource for school-board lawyers and administrators who negotiate with teachers in collective bargaining.
"Some of what we do is legal stuff," he explains, "how to comply with the Fair Labor Standards Act after the Supreme Court's ruling in Garcia, what school districts should do in response to Felton." And next year, he says, "we're going to be doing a lot more definitive work on the whole question of aids."
Reform in Hands of States
At the National Association of Secondary School Principals' office in Reston, Va., the calls for help from the lobbyists working for its state affiliates have also been increasing, according to Richard A. Kruse, the nassp's assistant director for governmental relations.
"Just last week, our friends in Iowa called asking me to give them a hand," says Mr. Kruse. There is growing realization by educators at all levels, he says, that "the state legislatures have the improvement of education in their hands."
nassp officials do not have plans at this time to add additional staff to handle the requests for help with lobbying strategies, Mr. Kruse says, but he is devoting more of his time these days to working with the state lobbyists.
From his talks with principals across the nation, he concludes that ''more and more they are trying to get networks together and share information as education bills move through the legislature."
"Their plan over the next term," says Mr. Kruse, "is to get their membership into full gear in working with the legislators."
Teachers' groups have been lobbying heavily at the state level for years, Mr. Kruse notes, but school principals' interest in political ac-tion has been a fairly recent development--one directly related to the reform movement.
"The principals have stood apart," he says. "They've had the somewhat archaic view that lobbying is a dirty business."
But today, says Mr. Kruse, because principals realize that they are ultimately responsible for turning education-reform mandates into "practical, working things," a changing attitude toward lobbying and state-level policymaking is emerging.
Unions Adding 'Resources'
Albert Shanker, president of the American Federation of Teachers, refers to his union's increasing attention to state matters as "adding resources," rather than shifting direction.
"We certainly are not going to reduce our efforts at the federal level," Mr. Shanker says, "but our emphasis is more and more in state legislatures and we will continue to move in that direction and put greater resources in that area."
Union officials at the state level also report an increased emphasis on lobbying in recent years.
Martha Zins, president of the Minnesota Education Association, an affiliate of the National Education Association, says that the mea recently reorganized its staff to provide more effective lobbying. The number and contributions of volunteer lobbyists also have increased significantly, she says, in response to the state legislature's reform efforts.
Movement Has 'Hit Hard'
Arnold F. Fege, director of governmental relations for the National Congress of Parents and Teachers, also reports that increases in state-level education activity have changed his job in recent years.
"The excellence movement has hit the states hard," he says, and for the first time in many years, local and state pta offices are being turned to for an opinion on everything from teacher-competency testing and vouchers to longer school years.
"In many cases," Mr. Fege says, "the state and local organizations did not have the capacity to do analyses of those issues."
Since 1982, however, the national pta has tried to provide its affiliates with the information and resources needed to make informed decisions about educational issues.
A "grassroots" movement among state pta's has also affected the way in which the national pta lobbies at the federal level, according to Mr. Fege. The increased political inter-est of state and local organizations, he says, has enabled the pta to develop a network of lobbyists in every district and state who, in addition to their work at the local level, make calls to Capitol Hill and rally forces for letter-writing campaigns.
The national pta's budget for lobbying and advocacy work has remained constant at less than 5 percent of the group's total annual operating budget of $3.34 million. But Mr. Fege says that the money is being spent in new ways.
"We've just realigned our focus," he says. "We're spending our time and our resources differently."
Enlarged Research Capacity
The need for research is probably one of the main reasons local and state education groups are turning to their national organizations for help, says William A. Harrison, senior program director for education at the National Conference of State Legislatures.
"My impression is that the associations have been involved in a fairly narrow debate until recently," he says. "But today, reforms are forcing them to look at a wider set of issues--accountability, curriculum, high-school standards--all of the debates have been broader."
In response to this broadening agenda, the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education is increasing the share of its resources devoted to providing information on state policymaking to its 700 member institutions.
"Two years ago, we recognized that significant amounts of teacher-education policy were being made at the state level," notes Penelope Earley, director of federal and state relations for aacte.
This year, she says, the organization added one staff member and established a clearinghouse on state issues to monitor state activity related to teacher training and certification.
Requests for Information
Ms. Earley is spending much more of her own time, she says, on policymaking at the state level--and much less of it on monitoring federal activity. She estimates that the number of inquiries and requests for policymaking information from state affiliates has risen by about 75 percent in the last four years.
And she, like most other Washington-based education representatives, expects the interest to increase.
"As the states assume more and more responsibility for education," says David G. Imig, executive director of aacte, "the ability to influence policy at the state level is absolutely paramount."