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July 2, 2006

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.

NEA's political 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 money.

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 and 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 this guy.

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 reads:

"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 on.

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.

5) Quote 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.

 

© 2006 Education Intelligence Agency. All rights reserved.