Who Really Runs NEA? We May Find Out This Summer

March 14, 2016

Who Really Runs NEA? We May Find Out This Summer. The National Education Association is proud to tell us that its Representative Assembly (RA) “is the highest decision-making body within the over 3 million-member NEA. With over 8,000 delegates, the RA is also the world’s largest democratic deliberative body.”

But since there are already two inaccuracies in that statement – NEA doesn’t have over 3 million members anymore, and the last convention produced only 6,700 delegates – it is also possible that calling the RA “the highest decision-making body” might not be entirely correct. We will know for certain this July in Washington DC when the delegates meet and vote via secret ballot on Bylaw Amendment 1.

The measure would give the RA voting power over the national union’s dues level. It is currently set by a formula largely based on the national average annual salary of classroom teachers. The delegates vote on the NEA budget each year, but have no means to alter the amount of money NEA collects.

If the amendment is approved, NEA headquarters would set the dues level as it currently does, but a majority of the RA would have to concur. If it does not, “the assembly shall debate and determine the amount or percentage of dues increase, if any, for the following year.”

It is unclear whether the purpose of the proposed amendment is to control the automatic increases in national dues, or create a mechanism by which dues could be further increased beyond the prescribed levels. Regardless, the NEA board of directors voted to oppose the amendment.

This should surprise no one, since currently it is the board that approves the dues level each February, after which the NEA budget for the next school year is built and presented to the RA for a vote. If the amendment were to pass, NEA would have to build a provisional budget instead, then adjust afterward for whatever dues level the RA approved.

NEA doesn’t want to have to make financial decisions with unknown revenues, which is pretty funny because a large number of states and school systems do it all the time, entering into collective bargaining agreements with teachers’ unions without knowing exactly how they will pay for them.

But it isn’t the amount of money involved that makes this a potential watershed moment for NEA. It’s the possibility that the RA might actually become the highest decision-making body in NEA by holding the union’s wallet.

It has long been the union’s tradition to palliate the more controversial notions that come from the RA during their implementation. Calls to action turn into conference training sessions, or articles in NEA Today, or protest letters from the NEA president to the aggravating party. If that sounds unduly cynical, remember that last year the RA passed a measure to support efforts to remove the Confederate battle flag from public schools and spaces “in ways it finds appropriate and effective.” Yesterday’s New York Times gave us a sense of how that’s going.

Give the RA control over revenues and that would change fast. It would be an unprecedented power shift within the national union. It would create factions within the RA for more spending, for less spending, and for funds dedicated to specific projects. That’s why I think the delegates will chicken out.

The interest of the rank-and-file NEA member in the actions of the RA is extremely low. Most couldn’t name their RA representative or pick him/her out of a lineup. But when those actions include a vote on how high the dues will be, all of sudden those members might take an interest, and soon they might take much more of an interest in who goes to the RA to make that vote, and hold him/her accountable for it.

Who needs that drama when you can stick to debating Papa John’s, Coca Cola or Zagat? So we are probably going to be treated to the sight of the world’s largest democratic deliberative body deliberating and voting democratically not to assume responsibility for its own revenues. Home of the brave.

Recent Intercepts. EIA’s daily blog, Intercepts, covered these topics March 8-14:

* African-American Voters Doing For Hillary What Unions Cannot. What good did that early endorsement do?

Maine Education Association’s Finances. Slowly shrinking.

Maryland State Education Association’s Finances. The benefits of the Brezhnev Doctrine.

Massachusetts Teachers Association’s Finances. Loaded.

Michigan Education Association’s Finances. Wheels coming off.

Quote of the Week. “For the past few years, PSEA has made choices with respect to its political endorsements which are suspect. They are based on personal friendships between board members and certain political candidates that have not advanced the real interests of our state’s teachers or other members of PSEA.” – John Morganelli, Democratic candidate for Pennsylvania attorney general, after the Pennsylvania State Education Association endorsed his opponent. (March 8 Allentown Morning Call)