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Alumni Spotlight // Advocacy

GAUCHO LAWYER CREATES AN APP FOR ADVOCACY

Click My Cause Founder and President Nancy Krop `84
Nancy Krop `84 at the 2013 Sixth District Parent Teacher Association Legislative Roundtable
Attorney and education advocate Nancy Krop `84 at the 2013 Sixth District Parent Teacher Association Legislative Roundtable. (Photo courtesy of Nancy Krop)

Attorney Nancy Krop `84 puts grassroots activism into the hands of everyday citizens with her new mobile advocacy app Click My Cause.

After spending three decades of her law career practicing civil rights and employment law, Krop wants to empower California voters to rally from their smartphones for positive change in public education, from early childhood education through higher education, throughout the state. As founder and president of Click My Cause, she hopes citizens will be better informed and directly engaged with the issues that affect their schools and their children’s futures.

After graduating with a degree in sociology from UC Santa Barbara, Krop went on to law school at UC Davis. Since the mid-1980s, she has served as lead counsel in a wide variety of cases, including wrongful termination, employment discrimination, glass ceiling, whistleblower, and sexual harassment. She also argued matters before the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

In 2010, California Lawyer Magazine recognized Krop as “California Lawyer of the Year” for obtaining a $78.5 million whistleblower settlement in an education fraud case against the for-profit University of Phoenix, the second largest settlement in the history of the federal False Claims Act in a case in which the U.S. Department of Justice did not intervene. Krop was also the founding president of Equal Justice Works, the country's leading organization engaged in organizing, training and supporting law students focused on a career public service.

A proud graduate of the California public school system, Krop became more involved in education advocacy when she witnessed the limited options offered to her own child at their school district. She became a key champion for improving schools and supporting teachers in the state capital as Director of Legislation for the Sixth District PTA (Santa Clara, Monterey, San Benito, and Santa Cruz counties) and vice president of advocacy for the Palo Alto Council of Parent Teacher Associations.

In this Alumni Q&A, Krop talks about her early political awareness, why she is passionate about education advocacy and what inspired her to create Click My Cause.

Nancy Krop
Click My Cause Founder and President Nancy Krop `84 (Photo courtesy of Nancy Krop)

Where did you grow up? What was life like in your household?

Growing up in a very politically active family in the San Francisco Bay Area, politics fascinated me from a very young age. My mother managed Democrat campaigns, and founded the local branch of the League of Women Voters. I worked on my first campaign, canvassing door to door as an elementary school student, for George McGovern for U.S. president.

Civil rights and advancing social change to help those less fortunate is in my DNA. My grandmother organized an economic boycott of a local movie theater until the owner desegregated the theater (prior to the boycott, African-Americans had to sit in the back of the theater).

I grew up hearing stories of “Martin” from one of my parents’ best friends, Rabbi Sidney Akselrad. We sang “We shall overcome” at family holidays, such as Thanksgiving and Passover. I later learned “Martin” was Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. I heard stories of Rabbi Akselrad marching in Selma and visiting the White House with Dr. King. These stories inspired me to seek equal access to equal opportunities for all people.

These quotes best describe my approach to life, from a very early age:

“Some see things as they are and ask ‘why?’ I dream of things that never were and ask why not.” -- George Bernard Shaw
“It is better to light a candle than curse the darkness.” -- Eleanor Roosevelt

What made you decide to study at UC Santa Barbara?

I chose to transfer to UCSB as a sophomore because of its great sociology program. An added plus was UCSB’s gorgeous beachfront location.

What spurred you to choose your major?

As a freshman at a different UC, I took a wide variety of courses. I greatly enjoyed my sociology classes, and sociology seemed a great educational foundation for law school. A sociology principle actually helped me win my first civil rights discrimination federal jury trial.

As a college student, I knew I wanted to attend law school. I participated in a great mock trial in high school, where I drew the role of prosecutor in a re-enactment of the Chicago 7 trial. During a college summer, I interned for a state court judge. That internship further inspired me to go to law school to help the less fortunate.

I found the academic environment at UCSB fairly easy and not challenging. That gave me room to pursue and explore extra-curricular activities, including participating in the UC student lobby.

What made you decide to join the Capital Hill (UCDC) program in Sacramento?

After interning as a high school student in the district office of my assemblyman, Byron Sher, I was curious to experience the state capitol.

When I applied for the Hill program, I didn’t know if I wanted to work on the outside (for a lobby group) or on the inside (for a legislator). In Sacramento, I interviewed several lobbying organizations. Then, I heard Assemblyman John Vasconcellos speak and I was mesmerized. He spoke so eloquently about using his power to help the less fortunate, and about our collective responsibility to help those in need. He spoke what was in my heart – how we all benefit when we help one another.

After his talk, I immediately introduced myself as his Spring intern - completely unaware it was a competitive process to be accepted into an political office. John was so impressed with his discussion with me, that he returned to his office asking his staff for my resume. Was he upset when they couldn’t find my resume, after a long extended search. Then, when my application arrived a week later, his staff was upset with me! Luckily, my in-person interview quickly changed from hostile to really friendly when they realized I was simply naïve about the process.

There were many, many wonderful highlights of working for Assemblyman John Vasconcellos. I saw first-hand the lion roar for the poor and underprivileged as he chaired the budget committee – the purse strings for California. Given our shared passion for helping the less fortunate, he took me under his wing and made himself fully accessible to me as we worked late into the night on legislation and strategy. He mentored me on building coalitions to promote legislation focused on growing healthy human beings.

One time, I got to present a bill to a committee. I’m sure I completely over prepared for that presentation. Finally, when I attended the committee hearing, as nervous as could be, I was so surprised no one was paying attention to me! They were chitchatting, drinking their coffee, and visiting with each other. The adrenalin pumping in my veins, I pounded on the podium for their attention, unaware of the microphones connected to the podium. An enormous boom and crash ensued! Startled, everyone looked up, as I sweetly said, “Now that I have your attention . . .”

I was shocked by the extreme political dividedness in Sacramento. If you weren’t from their party, they weren’t for the bill, regardless of the merits of the bill. It seemed so petty, and very “un-adult” to a young, impressionable college student.

I was also struck by the lack of women in the legislature. When someone addressed the legislature as “gentlemen,” the two female legislators rang their bells.

What made you decide to go on to law school?

I decided to go to law school to use the law as a tool to help the less fortunate among us succeed.

My first challenge was overcoming my fear of public speaking. When the law professors call on you in class, you have to stand up and discuss cases. No one now believes that this accomplished trial attorney and public speaker was actually once terrified of public speaking as a first year law student. That terrified first year law student never would have believed, how much she would enjoy a career as a trial attorney and public advocate.

Only when I was certified as a law student to practice in court, representing young teen juveniles in criminal court, did I find my voice. After that, there was no stopping me.

A second law school challenge was finding other like-minded law students who wanted to use the law to help others, and not just to earn money. It was also difficult to learn about public interest career opportunities. The law school career office back then didn’t offer any “public interest” career assistance. You could sign up on campus for corporate law interviews that took place on campus, but you had to research for yourself any public interest law opportunities.

This complete dearth of public interest information, and sheer isolation as a public-interest driven student, drove me to found Equal Justice Works and be its first president, as a second year law student. Today, EJW is the country’s leading organization organizing, training and supporting public service-minded law students, and is the national leader in creating summer and postgraduate public interest jobs.

You have been such an amazing proponent for public education. What fueled your advocacy?

I attended California public schools when they ranked in the top five. I rode that phenomenal free public education system all the way through law school. I experienced first hand how a nearly free education – through graduate school – lead to my success.

I was literally shocked – and floored – when I discovered decades later as a parent that California public schools dropped to ranking near bottom in funding (cost of living adjusted) and academic performance.

I was utterly oblivious to the poor state of our state public schools until attended my child’s first grade orientation. At that orientation, I looked at his posted daily schedule and asked, “How come there is no art teacher, no music, and no P.E. teacher? What do you mean there’s no school nurse? What do you mean the library is closing?” Within a year or two, my child was asking me to home school him because there was nothing for him in our public schools.

I was also surprised to learn that public education was no longer free in CA. That parents – through PTA and education foundations – are now funding education basics: classroom supplies, classroom technology, teacher professional development, and art and music programs and teachers.

I was horrified to learn California abandoned its education Master Plan and that my child’s classmates, and his generation, are not receiving the free, high quality, educational opportunities to succeed that I and my generation received. I couldn’t believe it that since 1980, California built only one university but developed twenty prisons, half-filled with high school drop-outs.

What is Click My Cause? What inspired you to create this app?

I founded Click My Cause in March 2016 to address the disconnect between voters and Sacramento on education issues. Legislation dies in California that could really help public education (early childhood learning through higher education) due to perceived lack of support.

Busy people do not know when an issue they care about is pending, and have no quick and easy way to make a difference. Our app makes large-scale grassroots advocacy quick and easy -- it’s “2 Clicks 2 Change.” The smart phone user receives a mobile alert: “Click 1” opens the alert, “Click 2” emails Sacramento. It’s ridiculously simple.

The idea rose from my work as Director of Legislation for the PTA. Parents attending my school funding presentations were very upset to learn our schools rank near bottom. They were uninformed about pending legislation, and had no quick and easy way to make a difference. Email alerts have about a 1 to 3 percent action rate because (1) they’re buried in overflowing email inboxes, and (2) it takes too much time to read the email and fill out the forms.

I began exploring the idea of harnessing the power of the smartphone - mobile advocacy. Most Americans own smart phones. Everywhere you go, people are on their smartphones. Spring 2016, (after running a successful beta test), I raised angel investment funds to incorporate and develop the iPhone app for the public. UCSB alum Joan Buchanan `63, former chair of the California Assembly Education Committee, joined me as an early advisor and is now a director of Click My Cause.

June 2016, two education organizations began using the app to advance education legislation in California.

We are thrilled with our early results: PTA’s mobile alerts on its 2016 bills generated 100 percent action rates! Every app user who opened the mobile alert emailed Sacramento - with just 2 clicks on their iPhone (click 1 opened the mobile alert, click 2 emailed Sacramento)

Our goal is to improve CA public education back to the top performing schools my generation enjoyed, and that fueled the top-ranked CA economy. We also want to advance more great “causes” (environment, housing, health, poverty alleviation, etc).

If you had unlimited budget to implement one crucial change in the educational system, what would you do?

Two things – not one - are essential. We don’t have to guess what will work to turn around our state’s education system. U.S. states and other countries rose from bottom to top performing by focusing initially on two critical education investments: (1) early childhood education, so our children enter Kindergarten prepared to learn (every $1 invested saves $8) and (2) teacher education, training, mentoring and support. (See, “The Flat World and Education” by Stanford Professor Linda Darling-Hammond.)

This election year is a milestone year for voters. What key issues do you feel candidates (at presidential and legislative levels) on both sides should be addressing?

Education and healthcare are both critical to a child’s success and a strong U.S. economy, by producing a healthy educated workforce and self-reliant individuals. You could have the best schools, filled with the best teachers, but if a child is sick, she can’t learn. So, these are two key issues I’d like to see discussed on a national level.

What balances you and keeps you going?

The children inspire me – names changed of course. Here are just some of them:

  1. 5 year-old Kalen, who when I was helping him with a kindergarten project as a classroom parent volunteer, told me, “Miss Nancy, I can’t do this. I’m stupid.” Of course he wasn’t stupid. But many of his classmates knew their colors, numbers and letters because they had attended pre-school and he had not. How terrible for a child to begin his education in this manner.
  2. 9 year-old Owen, a math whiz in the lowest performing math group in fourth grade. He could do math problems in his head faster than his top performing classmates. As a classroom volunteer, I asked Owen why he was in the “green” (low performing) group (the groups were color coded instead of labeled low, middle and high performing, but all the kids knew the group performance levels). Owen replied, “I can’t read English. I can’t read the math problem, and I can’t write the answer.” If we invested in Owen’s education, the sky’s the limit in what Owen – and all the Owens out there - could do for us all because he’s brilliant.
  3. 16 year-old Brandon, flunking out of high school continuation school, charged with his sixth juvenile court offense, with a district attorney clamoring to “lock him up.” Brandon was growing up in what I call a “no-parent home,” raised by a single mother hooked on drugs. Brandon stole to support her habit, and to gain the support of his “family” – the kids on the street. Brandon met with me, his greasy, unwashed hair covering his eyes, and wearing dirty, smelly clothes. Yet, Brandon could read his criminal file faster than I. One week, I offered Brandon dinner at my house if he showed up with straight As on his weekly report card. The next week, I didn’t recognize the handsome Brad Pitt look-alike who strode into the room. Standing upright, clean hair brushed back from his face, shirt tucked in, wearing a belt, he proudly handed me a weekly report card of straight A’s. Brandon knew I believed in him.

Why is it important for alumni to connect with students at UC Santa Barbara -- especially with those students who aim to follow your career path some day?

We each received mentoring along the way – someone who believed in us. It’s paying it forward, and it’s ensuring a better tomorrow for all of us. We can be role models, inspiring the next generation of movers and shakers.

What makes you proud to be a Gaucho TODAY?

UC Santa Barbara was an affordable, warm, supportive environment where my teachers encouraged me to follow my passions and my dreams. I’m proud to have attended such a fine public institution, dedicated to serving our students and our state.

To learn more about Click My Cause, visit www.clickmycause.com.

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