By: Dr. Rick Scuderi, Past President and Former Legislative Chair
This article continues an article that appeared in the hard copy Communique distributed at the Fall CAPED Convention. Part 1 emphasized how each CAPED Legislative Committee member brings to the table his/her own unique set of motivation, individual style, resources, and connections, and compliments what one person alone may lack for the multiple tasks of CAPED advocacy. These tasks can be as simple as rallying fellow CAPEDERs within a local area to write or visit their local legislator; or it may be as complex as delivering an advocacy issue to CAPED leadership and, with approval, to the field, writing sample letters as a guide, personally working the halls of the Capitol building, and interacting with other State agencies. The motivation found to do this work, be it simple or complex, must be so tangible that it continually drives you on, awkward and sometimes downhearted as you might feel at times. For me, raw personal interchanges with my students, exemplified in Part 1, drove me initially to some naïve and clumsy advocacy efforts, and later to more effective, organized efforts. For others, this sustained motivation may be more conceptual, perhaps a unique and effective program design and the like. And now Part 2 continues with the more sophisticated, technical aspects of CAPED legislative advocacy.
First, though, some CAPED history is needed here. I became Legislative Chair in 1992 and served as Chair or Co-chair till 2004. However, I’ve been active on the Committee on and off to the present time. Coming into the position I had the advantage of already 10 years of very visible leadership in the CAPED LD CIG, and was its CIG Representative when new LD Qualifications were being reformulated in cooperation with the State Community Colleges Office, and later with the State Department of Finance and the State Legislature. This was a somewhat contentious time involving the functional definition of LD, test bias and multicultural issues, the institution of local California norms for national standardized testing for LD, and the creation of the Learning Disabilities Field Advisory Committee (LDFA) to monitor for test bias, validity and reliability of the new model over the long term. This included, very notably, the use of periodic LDFA oversight and technical reviews in order to negotiate the national publishers’ agreements which permit postsecondary unlicensed Learning Disability Specialists to administer standardized aptitude tests, and thus solidifying the need for California LD Specialists’ positions on each campus. Delicate and tricky negotiations indeed!
And so, being involved in the above endeavors, I already had a network of influential contacts within the colleges, the CC Chancellor’s Office, and other agencies when I became CAPED Legislative Chair. These contacts were useful in understanding relevant up-coming legislation and in discussing effective strategies. The connections were especially useful in disseminating information to the field because the field could hear it from one of their own local people, not just from a distant CAPED source in another part of the State. I do admit, though, that my lesser personal involvement with the UC’s and CSU’s was a problem. Being conscious of this, I used the fewer contacts I did have to inquire about concerns and legislation, and at times a Legislative Co-Chair would be from the 4 year Systems. So some of the legislation passed during this time benefited all 3 Systems – the CC’s, the UC’s, and the CSU’s. More about this later.
Once becoming Legislative Chair, I soon realized that the CAPED membership was (and to my knowledge currently is) roughly grouped somewhere along the continuum of 3 areas of thought: first, those who were pro-CAPED legislative advocacy while cognizant and cautious of non-profit status limitations (myself included in this group); second, those who were neutral on CAPED legislative advocacy, focusing solely on nourishing their day to day service; and third, those who were generally opposed to CAPED legislative advocacy, citing threat to nonprofit status, time taken away from training, and/or their preference for local district control versus State legislation (e.g. State funding formulas, such as Categorical Funding). Nonetheless all had to have their fair say. And this is where the CAPED Bylaws came into play. This is important. The content, purpose and use of the Bylaws guaranteed a fair say to everyone along certain procedures. This was the genius of our Founding Fathers, who gave us: one, the ‘Articles of Incorporation’, a six-page document succinctly stating who we are, and given to the California Secretary of State for filing CAPED under non-profit status; and two, the initial Bylaws, now grown to 23 pages through amendments over the years, all as a way to procedurally and fairly deal with diverse opinion on how we operate. Specifically, the CAPED Bylaws delineate definitions and duties of positions, quorums needed for official meetings, number of votes needed for approvals, what’s needed for general membership approval, how some decisions can be appealed, and so on. These can seem cumbersome and inefficient to use at times, yet ignoring them can lead to a culture of ‘quick decisions’, vulnerable to bias and flaws without the open, orderly input of diverse, thoughtful opinions that following the Bylaws provide.
In summary so far, three factors are important for this roadmap of CAPED advocacy. First, to nourish contacts within Sacramento regarding pertinent, pending legislation (e.g. The Faculty Association of Calif. Community Colleges, EOPS Association, The Community College League, knowledgeable Sacramento CAPEDERs, and so on ); second, to nourish contacts within CAPED, beyond the Legislative Committee per se, to help bounce ideas and strategies around with local input and to help with disseminate CAPED approved legislative advocacy information at local Community College Regional Meetings, the UC’s and CSU’s; and the third overall effort – the Committee’s familiarity of the CAPED Bylaws for the reasons previously stated.
Now some suggestions for the Legislative Committee soliciting the support from the field – be simple, to the point, and clear with the brief explanatory narrative and sample letter. Avoid many acronyms or mentioning inside information that you readily understand, but may not be familiar to the field or legislative reader. If at all possible, inform the field on exactly who should get the communication, meaning the specific name and contact information. Avoid referring the field to an unfamiliar website, with a few links to click before the appropriate name and contact information is found. It can take more time, savvy, creativity, and effort to prepare a very clear, specific solicitation and exactly who it should go to, but the probable result is significantly more communications being sent and less time being wasted by the field. Many hard working, well intentioned members in the field simply don’t have the time to hunt unfamiliar internet terrain to find the exact legislators and their contact information. During a recent legislative effort, I worked hard to create a clear, specific solicitation. Ended up being a self-created Word Document that directed every member to the exact legislators each was to contact, with the contact information next to the names. Took me several tedious hours to create it, but it saved the field untold hours, and next time I’m sure it will be easier to create.
For the field sending communications to the legislators, please do not underestimate your power. You make those going on Legislative office visits look great! The common phrase heard in these offices is, “Oh yes, we’ve received many communications about your concerns. . .” That’s like trying to score a run in baseball, but instead of coming to bat, they allow you to start at second base! And for those going on office visits, you’ll probably feel daunted at first so you might think of taking a colleague with you if you can. Stick to the sample letters points and know them well, and come with a couple of relevant stories. You’re not expected to be an expert on everything, and you’ll probably be speaking with young staffers whose job is to listen and take notes, not to argue. It can be a thrilling once you get the feeling that ‘I can do this!’ You may get the bug so badly that you might even want to join the Legislative Committee or be one of its contacts or, watch out now, be a future Legislative Committee Chair one day!
Yes, all of the above can seem burdensome and time consuming, considering that CAPED is primarily a training and service organization. However, when well-coordinated with simple, succinct, clear communications, and with the Committee members and Chair familiar with CAPED Bylaws procedures, the CAPED ‘drill’ of timely advocacy can be performed like clockwork. And just look at what has been gained over the years: Since 1994 to 2014 approximately $180,000,000 for Community College categorical funds in gained and restored funding; numerous Legislative bills and other legislation passed on Architectural Barrier Removal, Electronic Access including Distance Education, Alternate Media, Priority Registration, many of which affecting all 3 Higher Education Systems (CC’s, UC’s, and CSU’s). And all the while defeating many legislative efforts to diminish or erase State funds for postsecondary students with disabilities.
And for all readers, do be informed about CAPED. The best way is to attend the Conventions and also to peruse the current 2014 CAPED Bylaws. Ask your CIG leaders about getting a copy for yourself. Look in the table of contents for what interests you, be it job descriptions of CAPED positions, the structure, function, and interaction of the organizations components, how voting is done, methods of amendment and appeal, and what needs to be accessible to the general membership. In relation to the Legislative Committee, a lot is found on pages 15-16, and on page 18. Pages 21-22 detail some information on the general memberships’ role.
Finally, I’m so happy to have served CAPED and the students it serves throughout the years, and to continue to be of help when needed. I wish the reader the satisfying joy of continued passionate engagement in your noble profession. Know that you do important work.