Happy Independence Day! As you listen to
fireworks exploding, Iím trying to keep my brain from exploding. When the
NEA Representative Assembly starts discussing the interstices of
resolutions, NBIs, committee reports, parliamentary procedures, and
amendments to all of them, well, itís harder to decipher than a Swedish
+ Nine of 10 NEA Delegates Want Gore for President.
There was never any doubt that the RA delegates would concur with NEAís
endorsement of Al Gore. But the yardstick by which to measure their
enthusiasm was the 91 percent concurrence they gave Bill Clinton in 1996.
Gore exceeded expectations by receiving 89.5 percent of the delegate vote.
Goreís campaign is struggling with other core Democrat constituencies. The
NEA vote cements teachersí unions as Goreís most loyal backers. The vote has
wide implications for the presidential campaign, but not so much for the
vote itself. NEAís own surveys showed that Republican nominee Bob Dole got
31 percent of the teacher vote in November 1996, which is roughly equivalent
to the percentage of Republicans among the membership at large.
+ "Billion-a-Minute" Riley Opens the Candy Store. U.S. Secretary of
Education Richard Riley addressed the convention. While his speech contained
a little bit of everything, it contained A LOT of money. In a 20-minute
speech, Riley proposed over $32 billion in new federal spending on public
education -- $1 billion for after-school programs, $24.8 billion for school
modernization, $1 billion for teacher recruitment, and on and on. "The NEA
knows how important these programs are and we can only hope that the
majority in Congress will come to acquire the same wisdom that you have,"
said Riley. "I have to add that they have not so far."
Riley hit all the usual applause lines, including the OVD, but when he
proposed reconstitution as a measure for schools that failed after getting
additional help, he was met with a silence similar to that accorded Hillary
Clinton at last yearís RA, when she praised charter schools.
+ NEA Spells Out Its Position on Privatization. After a long,
confusing debate, the RA approved the final report of the NEA Committee on
Educational Privatization with only a minor amendment. The 28-page report
and the five-page policy statement can be summarized this way: Privatization
is only acceptable when there is no similar public service available, funds
are never used (even indirectly) for sectarian purposes, and the
privatization never negatively impacts public employees. If all these
conditions are met, NEA then defers to the local or state affiliate on the
matter. Some of the delegates saw this as weakening NEAís position against
privatization and argued strongly against it. But the reportís supporters
prevailed when an effort to delete more than half the policy statement was
There are two other items of interest in the report. The committee passed
on the idea of having a formal policy regarding privately funded school
voucher programs, such as those created by Children First America and the
Childrenís Scholarship Fund, but the report does provide this remark as a
footnote: "The Committee believes that privately-funded private school
voucher programs are undesirable, and that NEA and its affiliates should
attempt to educate the public about the pitfalls of such programs."
Secondly, the committee recommended -- and NEA President Bob Chase
intimated he would follow its recommendation -- that a similar special
committee be formed to produce a report on charter schools for next year. If
the privatization report and debate are any indication, such a committee
would only further cloud NEAís already muddy stance on charters.
+ Merit Pay Language Already Contentious. The RA will debate the
unionís new resolution on merit pay tomorrow, but there are already three
camps emerging. The first faction backs the language adopted by the
Resolutions Committee, which allows additional compensation for national
certification and for other performance-based systems that meet specific
minimum criteria. The second faction is represented by a minority on the
Resolutions Committee, which favors additional compensation for national
certification, but is opposed to merit pay, no matter what criteria is used.
The third faction is opposed to any change in current policy. Itís
interesting to note that NEAís commitment to higher pay to solve teacher
shortages does not extend to subject-specific shortages. Both the majority
and minority in the Resolutions Committee approved the statement, "The
Association opposes providing additional compensation to attract and/or
retain education employees in hard-to-recruit positions."
+ NEA Officers Can Still Cross Picket Lines. NBI 7 directed "that a
policy be developed to ensure that no officer of the NEA or staff of the NEA
cross any union strike picket line. Any alleged violations of this policy
shall be investigated and reported to the RA." The item was submitted by
Laura Kirchner of Kentucky, inspired by wholesale crossing of the Kentucky
Education Association Staff Organization picket line by some attendees of
NEAís Mid-Atlantic Regional Conference last January. NEA President Bob Chase
and Vice President Reg Weaver both addressed that conference. The news of
the picket line circumvention by NEAís top leaders was reported exclusively
by EIA and picked up by the Wall Street Journal.
When asked what NEAís current policy was, Chase directed General Counsel
Bob Chanin to answer. "I donít believe that we have an official written
policy," Chanin said, then proceeded to criticize NBI 7, saying it "would
not allow NEA any flexibility to make determinations on a case-by-case
The item was defeated, though it received significant support,
particularly from the New Jersey and New York delegations.
+ Bad News for Mumia, and Other NBIs. Delegates have submitted a
total of 77 new business items, and an unusually large number of them are
devoted to fringe issues and victim politics. Continuing the trend of recent
years, the RA seems less inclined to pass the most controversial of these.
RA delegates voted overwhelmingly to not even consider the omnipresent NBI
to push for a new trial for convicted cop killer Mumia Abu-Jamal. The RA
also resoundingly defeated an NBI to call for a national moratorium on the
death penalty. Another NBI, calling on NEA to investigate discrimination of
"Garifuna" people, was referred to the Executive Committee. One speaker
actually spoke of the "plight" of gifted students. Her NBI passed.
+ Quote of the Day. "Many of our members simply do not trust our
national affiliate." -- Virginia Education Association President Cheri
James, trying to get the RA to delay the dues increase for one year. There
was a smattering of applause after her statement, but the proposal was