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School board to discuss hiring federal lobbyist

By Staff | Nov 10, 2008

The Lee County School Board will throw its hat into the federal legislative process.

On Monday the board will decide whether to hire a federal lobbyist to act on behalf of the school district. It will vote on an agreement with Cerra Consulting for $24,000 to serve as a lobbyist until October 2009.

The school district has employed the consulting company for more than two decades to deal with its state legislative priorities such as increased funding for schools, establishing proper governance of charter schools, improving accountability and expanding class size.

The main priority is undoubtedly No Child Left Behind, the controversial education bill passed by President George Bush in 2002. Under the law, school districts are awarded federal money for achieving Adequate Yearly Progress or AYP.

Groups of students under the law are separated into “cells,” and each cell has to have a certain percent of students passing to reach AYP.

Board Member Steve Teuber serves as the board’s legislative liaison. He said the district has not drafted its federal priorities yet, but it will begin the process after the presidential election.

“No Child Left Behind is the biggest, also funding, and nationwide scoring,” said Teuber. “Right now with NCLB it isn’t the standards, but it’s that everyone has a different test.”

The FCAT test in Florida is much more difficult than in other states, he said. The Florida Department of Education set standards much higher than other DOEs nationwide. Teuber suggested that a federal lobbyist could help institute a test like the FCAT across the United States.

Chairman Jeanne Dozier said the district wants to make sure that No Child Left Behind is reauthorized fairly for students throughout the state, and she pointed out that AYP cells in other states are much larger than in Florida.

“We want to reauthorize it to where we can make sure everything is on a level playing field,” said Dozier. “That is something absolutely crippling the state of Florida as far as our children are concerned.”

For now, the board is waiting to see if Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz, or Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., are elected. Both candidates have different educational plans and policies. Obama wants to put $18 billion toward funding for schools, and McCain said he wants to freeze discretionary spending because schools already receive adequate funding.

Teuber explained that either candidate will affect public education in the form of new staff certifications, requirements or changes in per student allocation. Changes that result in thousands of dollars worth of expenses for a smaller school district would equate to millions for the Lee County School District, he said.

“We need to make sure we have someone in Washington who is working with other lobbies and school districts,” said Teuber.

Teuber added that Cerra has “already earned his salt” for state lobbying on behalf of the school district, and that he will hold a payback analysis in 2009 to review the benefits of Cerra’s federal lobbying efforts.