What Has NEA Done Since Last Year? It Got Engaged!

May 31, 2016

What Has NEA Done Since Last Year? It Got Engaged! The lion’s share of time at the National Education Association’s four-day Representative Assembly (RA) each year is spent debating and voting on new business items (NBIs). These are proposals brought to the floor by groups of delegates and constitute action items which, ostensibly, can be completed by the time of the next RA.

However, much more attention is paid to passing NBIs than to discovering what action was taken. NEA issues to delegates a report on NBI implementation, and the 2016 version reveals not only what the union was up to, but the existence of its new favorite communications word: engagement. The 36-page document contains 57 instances of “engagement” – with members, staffers, community partners, students, school districts and Congress. There was digital engagement and engagement in conjunction with “quality listening.”

Much of this engagement was related to last year’s NBI to address institutional racism. The union will launch a web site – NEAEdJustice.org – designed for activists to support social and racial justice causes, and will beef up its advocacy for community schools – that is, schools that also act as social services centers – beginning with projects in Colorado, Ohio, California, New Mexico, Florida, Maryland and New Jersey.

NEA also developed a proposed policy statement on the “school-to-prison pipeline” that it hopes will address the issue of channeling students to the criminal justice system for disciplinary infractions that take place on school grounds. The statement will be debated and voted upon by the delegates at the 2016 RA in Washington, DC.

Another NBI called on NEA to support efforts to remove the Confederate battle flag from public schools and public spaces. In response, NEA drafted model legislation and a model school board resolution, but admitted that “very few states or local school boards had introduced bills or resolutions calling for the removal of the Confederate battle flag from public spaces and/or public schools.”

Many other NBIs were completed with the publication of articles on various NEA media outlets, the providing of guidance to state affiliates, or other similar actions taken in the normal course of business.

The endorsement of Hillary Clinton for the Democratic presidential nomination last October caused some internal turmoil for NEA, particularly since delegates had approved NBI 79, which called on the union to “actively engage in conversation and outreach on the NEA endorsement process with all 2016 Presidential campaigns prior to the consideration of a primary recommendation.” NEA concluded that it met the requirements of the NBI before endorsing Clinton, by engaging all candidates through “social media, patch-through phone calls and town halls.” The union also sent questionnaires to 25 candidates, ultimately choosing Clinton, Sanders and O’Malley for interviews. NEA also hired a Republican consultant to advise GOP candidates on the process, but they ultimately remained previously engaged.

A few other items of note:

* NEA will eliminate the requirement for delegates to present a photo ID before voting secret ballots at the RA. The determination was made that this internal practice was inconsistent with the union’s external opposition to voter ID laws. However, delegates will still have to present their credentials to receive a ballot.

* NEA has 45,000 members who hold office in the union, from president down to school site representatives and shop stewards. This is a substantial number of people, but they constitute only 1.5 percent of the total membership. It’s important to remember that these are the people who formulate union policies, make decisions on political expenditures and endorsements, and determine who is labeled friend, enemy or neutral. Of all union activities, only those involved with approving a collective bargaining agreement or a decision to strike involve the entire rank-and-file.

* NEA reports that “hundreds of new members have joined the NEA from charter school organizing” since last year, though it fails to provide a precise number, or how much it spent to produce that result.

* NEA states its organizing programs now focus on education and social issues, and “have pivoted away from selling insurance and a heavy focus on benefits.”

Recent Intercepts. EIA’s daily blog, Intercepts, covered these topics May 24-31:

* Union’s “Fight For $15” Organizers Are, Of Course, Non-Union. How to scab yourself.

* NYC Union Election Provides Something New and More of the Same. Landslide victory for the Don’t Give a Crap Caucus.

Time for Another Episode of “What the Hell Just Happened in Seattle?” Too much decaf?

* Utah Education Association’s Finances. Plus, the Utah School Employees Association learns the benefits (?) of NEA affiliation.

Vermont NEA’s Finances. Life is good in Bernieland.

Unsurprising Headline of the Week. “ESSA honeymoon over?” – May 27 Politico.

Quote of the Week. “Since 2010, [Diane] Ravitch has built a network of autograph seekers and blogmates who are sated by her compliments and water-logged rhetoric of wishful thinking, and she has consolidated her position as the voice for the anti-reformy movement. Most importantly, however, she has earned a position as chief propagandist for corporate unionism, while working both sides of the aisle of the big business political jet.” – Jim Horn, on his blog Schools Matter.