1) New NEA Political Group to
Influence What “America Learns.” Faced with
Internal Revenue Service and U.S. Department of Labor investigations
concerning its political activities and reporting, the National Education
Association has created a new advocacy organization that will be able to use
both dues money and state PAC money to advance the union’s goals.
Called “America Learns,” the new group
is a “social welfare organization,” as defined by the Internal Revenue Code
section 501(c)(4). The ACLU and the NRA are examples of 501(c)(4)
organizations. Such groups are allowed to lobby, provided it isn’t their
primary activity. They may not participate directly or indirectly in
The organization’s primary focus will be
on “spreading the word about the misguided so-called NCLB law, and how to
fix it.” Any doubt that the organization will be controlled by NEA was
erased by the identity of its board of directors. Anne Davis, president of
the Illinois Education Association, will chair the board. The other two
members are Robert Bonazzi, executive director of the New Jersey Education
Association, and Maurice Joseph, NEA’s deputy general counsel. The executive
director for America Learns is John Hein, most recently the associate
executive director of government relations for the California Teachers
NEA is asking its state affiliates to
contribute a minimum of $1 per member to America Learns, which can come from
the union’s general fund, PAC fund, or outside donations – though these are
not tax deductible.
2) Utah Support Employees to Vote on
NEA Affiliation. After a bad organizing year, NEA
is hoping for a major membership pick-up in Utah by hooking the entire Utah
School Employees Association (USEA) in one fell swoop. USEA represents
education support employees statewide and has been bouncing from one
national affiliation to another over the past year.
USEA disaffiliated from the American
Association of Classified School Employees (AACSE) to hook up with the
National Association of Classified School Employees (NACSE) last August.
NACSE also has statewide affiliates in Washington, Minnesota and California.
In announcing their decision, USEA officials told members, “The needs of
classified employees will never be the priority of teacher organizations
like AFT or NEA. While these organizations are very large and well known,
teachers control them and their priority will always be teachers. The best
organization for classified employees is an organization that is controlled
and works for only classified employees.” The union’s executive board
approved NACSE affiliation in October.
Well, something changed their minds in a
hurry, because last month the USEA executive board distributed a memo to
local officers, announcing its recommendation to affiliate with NEA. USEA
officers negotiated a direct affiliation deal with NEA. That is, USEA’s
current members will not become members of the Utah Education
Association. Additionally, NEA approved reduced national dues for four
years, gradually increasing until reaching full ESP dues (currently $73.50).
USEA delegates will debate and vote on the plan at their May 1 meeting.
This arrangement causes a problem,
because the Utah Education Association has members who are education support
employees, and NEA cannot have two affiliates in competition for the same
members. So, the same day, the Utah Education Association House of Delegates
will vote on a by-laws change to exclude classified employees from
membership. One assumes those members will be encouraged to join USEA.
The USEA board is already distributing a
laundry list of benefits NEA will provide, and is informing members that
USEA “will retain our ability to determine our own programs, services,
policies and such things as state legislative priorities.” Apparently they
haven’t read the UniServ agreement yet.
USEA would provide a much-needed
membership shot-in-the-arm for NEA, but it probably will be a short-term
financial burden. Reduced dues, particularly for support employees, are a
loss leader. The Iowa State Education Association, facing budget problems of
its own, recently eliminated reduced dues for new teachers.
3) Washington Charter Situation Puts
NEA on the Spot. Delegates to the Washington
Education Association (WEA) representative assembly approved an effort to
overturn the state’s new charter school law through a ballot initiative. If
the union gathers the 98,000 signatures necessary to place the initiative on
the ballot, the law would be suspended until the election is held.
WEA’s “last stand” approach to charters
places NEA in something of a quandary. In 2001, the national union formed a
special committee on charter schools. The committee issued a report, which
was made official NEA policy by a vote of the union’s representative
assembly in July of that year. The policy calls for a “middle-ground
approach” in dealing with the issue of charter schools, and explicitly
rejected “the option of reverting to the position of categorical opposition
that NEA took when the charter school concept was introduced in the early
At the same time, NEA budgeted $1.75
million for a pilot project to organize charter school teachers. The project
is being run by the California Teachers Association, with an eye to
replicating its efforts elsewhere.
The problem for NEA will arise when WEA
asks for money from the NEA ballot initiative fund. A $5 per member annual
assessment is accumulated and doled out by NEA to state affiliates who apply
for grants for their state and local initiatives. Will NEA fund organizing
charter schools in one state while funding their elimination in another?
Would helping fund the WEA initiative violate national union policy?
AFT exhibits similar schizophrenia on
the issue. The Pennsylvania Federation of Teachers boasts charter school
employees among its members, while the Ohio Federation of Teachers is
considering a ballot referendum to outlaw the schools. “[Charter schools]
are a cancer we need to cut out and cut out fast,” Tony Miceli, a member of
the Cleveland Teachers Union executive board, told the Toledo Blade.
Perhaps the unions should straighten out
their internal policies on charter schools before they start advocating one
for the public.
4) Through the Grapevine.
Here are a couple of items that come from excellent and reliable -- but
single -- sources. EIA will provide more details as they become available:
* Word out of Miami is that the AFT
administratorship over the United Teachers of Dade (UTD) will not end until
October, when elections for new officers will take place. AFT took control
of the local after a series of financial problems and an FBI raid last
April, which led to the arrest and subsequent jailing of former UTD
President Pat Tornillo for mismanagement of union dues.
* Word out of NEA headquarters is that
OWL.org, the union’s long-troubled, multi-million dollar web portal, is
about to undergo yet another facelift and restructuring, possibly
accompanied by a name change. EIA suggests “Yahoo.”
5) Hawaii Back-Ends 31 Percent Pay
Hike for University Professors. Negotiators for
the state of Hawaii and the University of Hawaii Professional Assembly (UHPA),
the union representing university faculty, reached agreement on a six-year
deal worth an accumulated 31 percent increase in pay. UHPA is the largest
single higher education local affiliate of NEA, with some 3,100 members.
The agreement, coming after UHPA members
had taken a strike authorization vote, averted a second faculty strike in
the past three years. The raises include a one percent retroactive hike,
then 3 percent, 2 percent, 5 percent, 9 percent, and 11 percent in the
2008-09 school year.
UHPA President Mary Tiles called the
raises “a start.” Gov. Linda Lingle said she expects the state to pay for
the contract with revenues from an expanding economy.
The unanswered question is what the
agreement will mean for other government employee unions also in
negotiations with the state. The Hawaii State Teachers Association goes back
to the bargaining table this week and has already said it expects the state
to make more movement in light of the UHPA contract.
6) Quote of
“Content sometimes is really overrated. A teacher is like an artist, a
coach. He has to be able to inspire children.” – Philadelphia middle school
teacher Nick Perry, commenting on the news that more than half of the city’s
middle school teachers failed their content exams for certification as
“highly qualified” teachers. Nearly two of every three teachers who took the
math exam failed it, though one teacher who achieved a perfect score said
the test “mostly included seventh- and eighth-grade math and touched on high
school math.” (March 23 Philadelphia Inquirer)