Who Will Get NEA’s Great Public Schools Grants?

November 4, 2013

Who Will Get NEA’s Great Public Schools Grants? Last July, the National Education Association offered the delegates to its representative assembly a choice. They could either approve a budget with a dues level of $179, or a budget with a dues level of $182. The latter choice would set up a $6 million Great Public Schools fund, which would disburse grant money to state and local affiliates for projects “enhancing the quality of public education.”

NEA was deliberately vague about what kinds of projects these might be, but made clear that it was in response to “those with little or no practical classroom experience” who were “crafting policies and implementing practices that we know won’t work for our students.” The $6 million annually would allow the union to “fund our own ideas.”

The delegates approved the dues increase and the creation of the fund, although it was a close vote by the standards of NEA elections. It gave the union’s 12-member Executive Committee the power to write the grant guidelines, subject to the approval of the board of directors. I mentioned at the time that, as a practical matter, it gave the Executive Committee the power to dispense the money any way it wished.

Now that the board has (as it routinely does) overwhelmingly approved what came from the Executive Committee, it seems the disbursement of the funds is in the hands of even fewer union officers than I first suspected.

Single grants are limited to a maximum of $250,000 annually, unless waived by the Executive Committee. Applications are first reviewed by NEA staff to ensure that the request doesn’t conflict with the union’s other programs, and that the request does not ask for money for overhead, PR, lobbying or campaigning.

From there the application will be reviewed by a newly established Great Public Schools Oversight Committee, consisting of nine members, all of them at the highest levels of the national organization, such as the NEA vice president and secretary-treasurer, and the presidents of NEA internal groups representing the interests of large urban locals, state affiliates, education support employees, and higher education faculty. While all these folks have education experience, their presence on the committee is due to their place in the union hierarchy, not to their expertise.

If the Oversight Committee rejects the proposal, that’s the end of it. But if it approves, the application still can’t be funded until final approval is given by NEA president Dennis Van Roekel and executive director John Stocks. The two men can approve the grant, reduce it, or reject it. The only appeal applicants will have will be to the Executive Committee.

NEA has the right to set up any method it desires for the disbursement of funds, but I wonder if the delegate vote in July might have turned out differently if Van Roekel’s pitch during his keynote speech had been “You come up with a way to transform a school, then John Stocks and I will decide if it’s any good.”

The guidelines list seven criteria for evaluating grant applications, but I get the feeling that #6 and #7 will play an oversized part: the application’s “intentional alignment with key NEA initiatives,” and plans for the “engagement of members and/or non-member recruitment in proposed programs and activities.”

Of course there’s a big difference between Van Roekel and Stocks funding initiatives they approve, as opposed to Bill Gates doing it.

Gates uses his own money.

Last Week’s Intercepts. EIA’s daily blog, Intercepts, covered these topics October 29-November 4:

Teacher Steals $10K from Union, District Doesn’t Care. A “faithful employee.”

On the Wrong Side of the Final Frontier. “qaStaH nuq?” she asked.

Bargaining and Selling. Public sector collective bargaining ignores most of the public.

Vegas, Baby! NEA’s crap shoot.

Wyoming Bucked the Trends. Boom times.

Quote of the Week. “When you look at all the uncertainty, you spend what you need to.” – Ginger Gold Schnitzer, director of government relations for the New Jersey Education Association, commenting on the union’s expenditures of almost $13.8 million on tomorrow’s elections. (November 1 NJ Spotlight)