King was a middle-school teacher in south Philadelphia before coming to Capitol Hill. After a stint with Teach for America, she called her congressman’s office and found a new job.
Liz King is a staffer with a laser beam focus on education policy.
King, who was recently promoted to legislative director for Rep. Chaka Fattah, D-Pa., has worked for the congressman for almost eight years. But her route to Washington didn’t involve any of the typical paths. There were no internships to prepare her for life on Capitol Hill, and she didn’t make the move from a campaign to a congressional office.
Instead, the middle-school teacher from the Chicago area, who had been working with Teach for America in south Philadelphia, decided she wanted to have a broader effect on federal policy and called her congressman’s office looking for a job.
“I called the office and asked if they had any openings,” she said. “They asked if I knew anything about education, and I said I was a Philly public school teacher, and that was sort of the beginning of it.”
That call eventually landed her a position as a legislative assistant. But it was her own students above all else that inspired her to come to Washington to work for change.
“I was very impressed by how resilient they were, and in spite of all of the obstacles they were facing and the level of systemic oppression that surrounded them, that they were very optimistic about learning,” she said. “They wanted to know stuff, and they wanted to be smart.”
As the daughter of an immigrant from London, King grew up hearing a lot about immigration policy. Conversations about “green cards and deportation” were common around her kitchen table, and some current attitudes toward the subject are inconceivable to her.
“Rather than seeing immigration as this amazing opportunity to bring in all this great thinking from all over the world, you’ve got this protectionist attitude that sort of says, like, we’ve got all the ideas we need, and we don’t need new people and new ideas,” she said.
Most days, King’s schedule is filled with meetings with constituents from Fattah’s district.
“Ninety-five percent of the meetings I take, people are asking us to do something we already do, or asking us to support something we already support, which makes my life easy,” she joked.
For someone accustomed to the instant gratification of teaching a child something new, the slow pace of change on Capitol Hill is a difficult thing to get used to.
“You teach them something and then they know it, and there’s immediate satisfaction and there’s immediate change and immediate improvement and immediate opportunity — and that is not the case around here.”
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., right, hugs Harold Schaitberger, General President of the International Association of Fire Fighters, after the Congressman spoke at the IAFF's Legislative Conference General Session at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill, March 9, 2015. The day featured addresses by members of Congress and Vice President Joe Biden.