Back-to-school special series: The ABC’s of K-12 education lobbying

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For the first part in our Back-to-School education lobbying series, we take a look at the who’s who of primary education and school choice advocacy. The list is long. Looking only at elementary and secondary schools, 151 lobbyists fill rosters for private academies to public school districts; and that doesn’t count the 102 lobbyists registered to represent educational support services such as the PACE Center for Girls, Rocket Learning, or ACT Aspire.

No doubt, for as much as education is about the kids it is also a multibillion dollar industry that is heavily regulated and never goes a year without facing or fending off substantial legislative and executive reforms.

To parse out who the main players are behind these politics, we begin with the school choice movement — active year-round and with a strongly guided mission.

There is the Home Education Foundation, represented by Brenda Dickinson; the Florida Schools of Choice Advocacy, Inc, represented by Rafael Arza; the Florida School Choice Fund, lobbied for by Denise Helen Lasher; and Florida Voices for Choices, lucky to have the acumen of Jon Johnson and Travis Blanton on their side.

Lobbyists also take note: at least as far as registrations are concerned, a gap may need filling at Step Up for Students. Both Glenton Gilzean and Doug Tuthill withdrew from their lobbying cards for the organization at the end of May.

The Foundation for Florida’s Future — partner to the renowned Foundation for Excellence in Education — goes well beyond school choice in their research and advocacy missions. Experts Sara Clements and Patricia Levesque make the substantive and political wheels turn over there.

Charter schools have no shortage of political representation — rather, quite a glut of it. The Florida Charter School Alliance, and the Florida Consortium of Public Charter Schools, have the political guidance of Stuart Brown and Andreina Figueroa, and Meghan Kelly and Larry Williams, respectively. Then, there’s Charter School Capital, Inc, with James Horne as the solo lobbyist; Charter Schools of Excellence, with Lisa Miller and Larry Williams; and Charter Schools USA, with Emily Buckley, Rebecca DeLaRosa, James Horne, Glenn Kirkland, Chris Moya, Ed Pozzuoli, Jim Scott, Trey Traviesa, and Skylar Zander.

These organizations represent member schools — and many member schools represent themselves, too.

For example, Bay Haven Academies works with David Ash, Lisa Miler and Larry Williams; the Cape Coral Charter School Authority works with Edgar Castro, Nelson Diaz and Fatima Perez; and KIPP Schools retains the expertise of Bo Bohannon, Marty Fiorentino, Joseph Mobley, and Mark Pinto.

Lobbying by public school entities is far more scattershot. Most of the big county school boards have contract lobbyists — but not all. For example, the often beleaguered School Board of Broward County has more lobbyists on its roster (eleven!) as it has members on its board (nine!). These include some of Tallahassee’s finest — Trevor Mask, Fred Karlinsky, Katherine Webb, and Yolanda Cash Jackson. Miami-Dade County Public Schools retains a similar list of masterful politicos including Kelly Mallette, Ron Book, Rana Brown, and Alberto Carvalho.

Sarasota County School Board retains the maven Mayernick duo of Tracy and Frank; and both Escambia County and Leon County school boards work with James Hamilton, Jessica Thomas Janasiewicz, and Juhan Mixon.

The School District of Palm Beach County pegs Ron LaFace, Jr, and Ashley Mayer, along with Vernon Pickup-Crawford, an education lobbyist with perhaps the greatest number of school districts on his to-do list (St. Lucie, Okeechobee, Marin, Indian River, Charlotte, and Collier, too).

This category can’t end without prime mention, also, of Scott Howatt with the School Board of Orange County; Connie Milito with the School District of Hillsborough; Wendy Dodge with Polk County Public Schools; Beth Seeny with the St. Johns School District; and Iraida Mendez-Cartaya with Miami-Dade County Public Schools. These in-house lobbyists are among the best in the nation when it comes to making policy wheels turn.

Administrators and teachers have their share of political representation in Florida, too. Some such entities include the Broward Principals and Administrative Assistants, represented by Carole Duncanson; the Florida Association of School Administrators, with Jessica Thomas Janasiewicz, Corinne Mixon, and Juhan Mixon; the Florida Association of District School Superintendents, with Donald Griesheimer; and of course, there’s the regular elephant in the room, the Florida Education Association. This teacher’s union keeps around a mix of lobbyists 15 strong, including Albert Balido, Amy Rodman, Kevin Watson, Joanne McCall, Ronald Meyer, and Eric Riley.

Of course, our K-12 students are fully oblivious to the work of these men and women on their behalf. As it should be.

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including SaintPetersBlog.com, FloridaPolitics.com, ContextFlorida.com, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.