Early to Rise

March 16, 2017 | By Tim Pratt

Virginia Early (A13) is a fiscal and policy analyst for the California Legislative Analyst's Office.
Virginia Early (A13) is a fiscal and policy analyst for the nonpartisan California Legislative Analyst’s Office.

At times, Virginia Early can be found testifying in front of lawmakers in California.

Other times, the St. John’s College graduate is busy analyzing numbers in the budget. Or she is traveling throughout the state, meeting childcare and preschool providers to determine the effect of the budget on their operations.

It’s all part of her job as a fiscal and policy analyst for the California legislature. Her work has a direct effect on the state’s multi-billion dollar budget.

The 2013 Annapolis graduate specializes in early education and child nutrition for the California Legislative Analyst’s Office. The office serves as a nonpartisan fiscal and policy advisor to the legislature, meaning it can provide an objective analysis of budget proposals without political bias. Lawmakers consider that analysis when working to pass the budget.

“It gives the legislature an office of people they know are in their corner,” she says. “They have analysts that aren’t working for somebody else.”

Early’s interest in public policy formed when she was a student at St. John’s. While her semesters were busy—she was the waltz archon, secretary of the Delegate Council, a Greek assistant, played in the orchestra, directed a play and worked a year in the Admissions Office—her summers were spent completing a variety of internships.

During the summer after her sophomore year, she interned for the legislative lobbying arm of her church in Washington, DC. The next summer, she completed the Governor’s Summer Internship Program, run through the Shriver Center at University of Maryland Baltimore County. As part of that internship, she had to contribute to a policy paper—with recommendations—and present it to then-Gov. Martin O’Malley and several top advisors.

“That’s when I really started to appreciate the power of state government,” she says.

During the spring of her senior year, she interned at the State House in Annapolis again. Then it was off to graduate school at Syracuse University, where she completed a 12-month master’s program in public administration.

It was during the master’s program that the California Legislative Analyst’s Office held a recruiting session at Syracuse. She applied for a job and was hired.

The work can be rigorous, Early says. Every January, the governor proposes a budget. The Legislative Analyst’s Office then analyzes the proposals in the budget and provides information on the possible effects, along with recommendations. The latest analysis Early completed, released on March 16, was 46 pages long.

Legislators have hearings on the budget, in which Early and others in her office provide additional information on the sections they analyzed.

“I do find St. John’s prepared me well for that,” Early says. “In some ways it’s not that dissimilar to a (senior) oral examination. You’ve written your report, you have these recommendations and now you’re going to talk about them with somebody.”

After the budget is passed, Early’s schedule consists of a lot of fieldwork. Last year, she spent portions of the summer and fall visiting childcare and preschool providers, meeting with them and discussing their needs. She talked to people who were leading training and workforce development, too.

“It’s nice that we have the time and ability to get out in the field and see how the state budget affects people,” she says. “I think a lot of St. John’s students would really like the kind of work I do because it’s very analytical, you get to think about interesting issues and you get to have your analysis be helpful to the public conversation.”

Early enjoys her job, from the analysis to the human interaction to the conversations she has with coworkers and members of the public. She hopes to continue working in the public sector long-term.

“It’s very rewarding and very interesting, and appeals to me for many of the same reasons I liked St. John’s,” she says.