1) The Secret of the
NEA Fan Club Revealed! The 2006
National Education Association Representative Assembly (RA) opened today
with 8,237 delegates present, up about 300 from last year, but 1,000
delegates fewer than the last time the union met in Orlando, in 1999.
All the preliminary and
housekeeping items went off without a hitch, though the traditional welcome
from the mayor or local politician of similar stature was missing. I don't
know why, but believe me, I'm not complaining.
I discuss NEA President
Reg Weaver's keynote address below, but for me the most important news came
late in the day, during the discussion of the constitutional and bylaws
amendments that would establish an "associate membership" category in NEA
for those who are not employed in education, public or otherwise.
I made fun of this idea
a couple of weeks ago in an item headlined
$25 to Join NEA Fan Club. I'm often accused of missing the point, and
more often accused of being too cynical. This time I badly missed the
point, but wasn't nearly cynical enough.
I thought the purpose of
the associate membership was merely to pry a few bucks out of some NEA
fellow travelers. It never occurred to me to really think about all
the differences between NEA members and non-members when it comes to the
operations of the national union. And I admit I still wouldn't have thought
of it until it was expressed plainly and clearly both by NEA Vice President
Dennis Van Roekel and NEA General Counsel Bob Chanin.
activities – especially how they are defined and reported – have been the
basis of a number of legal and administrative actions both within NEA and
outside of it, including agency fee arbitrations, religious objector
lawsuits, IRS audits, Department of Labor investigations, PR campaigns (both
by NEA and its opponents), and labor law debates on the proper uses of dues
One ironclad protection
NEA has for its political activities is its unrestricted right to
communicate with its members. Federal campaign law allows NEA to recommend
candidates to its members, encourage them to lobby legislators, and solicit
them to donate PAC funds. It is cannot do the first two things with
non-members without coming under the regulations of federal campaign law,
and is forbidden from accepting PAC contributions from non-members entirely.
So the purpose of the
associate membership isn't just to send those enthralling NEA publications
pizza coupons to members of the general public who couldn't join NEA
before, it's to send candidate and issue endorsements and solicitations for
PAC contributions to them.
This is clever, but
might end up being a little too clever. In 29 U.S. Code 411, Section 101 (a)
(1), titled "Equal Rights," it reads, "Every member of a labor organization
shall have equal rights and privileges within such organization to nominate
candidates, to vote in elections or referendums of the labor organization,
to attend membership meetings and to participate in the deliberations and
voting upon the business of such meetings, subject to reasonable rules and
regulations in such organization's constitution and bylaws."
So, it could be argued
that an associate member would have to be granted full membership
privileges. General Counsel Chanin said this would fly in the face of
precedent, but sharply conceded that the current U.S. Department of Labor
had reversed precedent in the matter of disclosure requirements for NEA
state affiliates, and that this case was still on appeal.
EIA apologizes for
missing the point for the sake of a joke. If you still want that
Dr. Demento photo, you might have to cough up some cash for the
Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.
2) Reg Is Right!
Theorists Aren't the Experts, Educators Are.
NEA President Reg Weaver's keynote address
was fundamentally sound, praising America's educators and damning their
detractors. It avoided the sound-bite misstep of last year's speech when he
boasted about NEA being "the keepers of the status quo." It's possible heads
will roll in the Public Relations department, however, because the speech
omitted the OVD – Obligatory Voucher Denunciation.
Weaver's theme this year
was the expertise of America's educators, and the lack of respect they get
for that expertise. There are too many outside theorists, Weaver explained,
coming up with education reform ideas with not enough input from the people
in the classroom.
"A group of individuals
who haven't seen the inside of a classroom, much less a classroom like those
that many of you work in – making decisions and developing theories on the
direction for public education should be an inconceivable concept," Weaver
said. "Our nation should be outraged!"
I'm with Reg on this
one. There are way too many theories of education reform that seem to
defy practical application, and way too many theorists espousing fixes who
have little practical public education classroom experience, particularly in
K-12. So let's hope we'll hear no more about
this guy, or
this guy, or
this guy, and especially
this guy, and turn to educators with the best ideas, like
this guy, and
this guy, and
this gal, and especially
3) Delegates Approve
New Mission Statement. Delegates
gave overwhelming approval to NEA's new statement of vision, mission and
core values, with extended debate but a minimum of tinkering. The preamble
"We, the members of the
National Education Association of the United States, are the voice of
education professionals. Our work is fundamental to the nation, and we
accept the profound trust placed in us."
The one-page document
then has a vision statement, a mission statement and a set of six core
values: equal opportunity, a just society, democracy, professionalism,
partnership, and collective action.
Attempts to amend the
document by addition were defeated, and this was no small feat in a room of
8,000 wordsmiths. There was some unintentional humor when a delegate
attempted to edit wording on the Power Point slide that accompanied the
presentation of the document, thinking it was part of what they were voting
4) Action on New
Business Items. The delegates took
action on six new business items (NBIs) today, including:
NBI 1 – The delegates
approved a motion that "protects the rights of all education professionals
to perform their duties without regard to the national origin and
immigration status of their students."
NBI 4 – The delegates
approved this measure that calls on NEA to advocate for a tax credit or
similar accommodation for the costs of retiree health care.
of the Day.
"Who is this guy Antonucci they told me about?" – a question a local
reporter asked me. Tempted to say, "Never heard of him," I instead
identified myself, sending her into a fit of laughter. "And you seem like
such a nice guy," she said.