February 14, 2011 If you attended one of CCSA's regional Charter Leaders meetings this winter, chances are you had the chance to meet Cynthia Bryant, the Association's new senior vice president, Government Affairs. In her new role, she oversees all of CCSA's Sacramento-based advocacy efforts.
We sat down with Cynthia to learn about her background, her thoughts on why charter schools and education reform are important, and her first impressions of CCSA.
Tell us about your background.
My whole career has been in politics. I worked on campaigns when I was young, then in the campaign consulting business. I took the time to go to law school, but came back to politics when I was done. I came to the Capitol to work for the Assembly Republicans and then with the Senate Republicans. I built the policy shop there, helping ensure Republican legislators had the policy experts on staff that they needed to be successful, and helped them build a full-time operation overseeing work on the Senate Floor.
That gave me a unique set of skills. I was good at campaigns and good at legislation.
During the Governor's recall in 2003, the Schwarzenegger campaign needed someone to work on the campaign who had legislative experience. Governor Gray Davis was busy signing and vetoing bills, and Schwarzenegger, on the campaign trail, was being asked about them. My job was to provide policy briefs for candidate Schwarzenegger. When he won the election, I came on as the chief deputy of legislative affairs.
Did you hold other positions within the Schwarzenegger administration?
I was one of the principal negotiators on the workers' compensation deal. I led budget negotiations for three years for the governor. Then I went to lead the Office of Planning and Research, where I learned a lot about California Environmental Quality Act guidelines and land use planning. Then I served as chief deputy director of the Department of Finance, and for the last 27 days of the Schwarzenegger administration was actually the director.
When did you join CCSA?
I made the decision to join the Association before the (November 2010) election, but I didn't start until January (2011), after Governor Schwarzenegger left office. I walked in with the Governor on swearing-in day, and I wanted to walk out with him. It was really important to me.
What drew you to the senior vice president, Government Affairs position?
I became intrigued by the idea of building up this aspect of the Association. I believed that my skill set could help the Association advocate for our schools at the federal, state and local levels. Charter schools are a piece of the entire education reform movement and I'm very interested in that. In terms of our economy and the competitiveness of the next generation, it's critical that our schools are functioning well.
I thought, after leaving the governor's office, "this is an area I could sink my teeth into."
What are your first impressions of CCSA?
I'm amazed by the quality and quantity of work the Association does. I wasn't aware of the work being done in the field and the technical assistance we provide to our members. I'm surprised by the quality of the data we have available to us and the information we can provide to our members. It makes it easier in terms of advocating our position that we're doing good work for our schools.
Speaking of "advocating our position," what are some of the Association's legislative priorities?
We want to make sure charters aren't re-regulated, and make sure we hold our own in the budget. We don't want charters to be cut disproportionately. Facilities remain a challenge for many charters, and we're continuing our advocacy in that area. Obviously, with the new State Board of Education, we have work to do so that charters still have a place to go. Of course, academic accountability and how we can take successful schools and scale them are also huge.
What role do members play in all of this?
There's an adage that all politics is local. Hearing from schools and teachers and parents in their districts means a lot to legislators. Legislators are more interested in hearing from you than someone in Sacramento. That's why it's so important when we ask for your help that you follow through and participate in the call to action. It lets legislators know that there's a lot of support for what we're advocating as an Association.
What are some of the next steps for you?
I went to many of the regional meetings, so I could listen to what members are talking about. I want to hear it straight from the membership. I want to visit schools and understand their issues. It means so much when you're talking to elected officials about how things impact charter schools when you can picture it in your head. I am always asking myself, "How do we make the connection between what we're doing in the capitol and what our members are doing in the field?"