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February 22, 2011

1) NEA to Double Member Dues Contribution to Political War Chest. Amid substantial membership losses and a $14 million shortfall in its general operating budget, the National Education Association plans to double each active member's annual contribution to the national union's political and media funds.

Currently, $10 of each active member's NEA dues is allocated to these special accounts. The more than $20 million collected each year is then disbursed to state affiliates and political issue campaigns - such as last year's SQ 744 in Oklahoma. A portion of the money also pays for state and national media buys to support the union's agenda.

But the most recent numbers show NEA lost more than 54,000 active K-12 members since this time last year. Coupled with less-than-expected increases in the average teacher salary - upon which NEA dues are based - the union will find itself with $14 million less revenue than it had planned. This includes about $500,000 less in the political and media funds.

Faced with unfriendly legislatures and governors seeking to roll back the union's influence, the NEA Executive Committee decided to double down - literally. It proposed raising each active member's assessment to $20, effective in September 2011. The union's board of directors ratified the decision, and it will go before the NEA Representative Assembly for a vote this July in Chicago. If passed, NEA's national dues for teachers will total $178.

The increase in the assessment has a five-year sunset clause, but this is just eyewash, since the last time the contribution was doubled - from $5 to $10 in 2004 - it also had a five-year sunset clause. The 2007 NEA Representative Assembly made the $10 contribution permanent.

NEA is already the top political campaign spender in the nation. This increase will give the national union an additional $40 million per election cycle. The increase alone is larger than all but two other groups spent during the entire 2007-08 cycle.

2) Media Bullpen Throws a Complete Game. I want to take this opportunity to recommend The Media Bullpen, a new web site from the Center for Education Reform.

Most of the attention so far has focused on the site's grading of education news stories and whether those grades will reflect the ideology of its host organization. As someone who gathers news from left, right and center, I don't worry too much about the ratings; I'm just happy to find a news aggregator that saves me the trouble of sifting through a lot of irrelevant stuff.

The site also divides stories into national, state and local, which also saves time if you are interested in a particular region, or want to skip the school board news from Podunk.

You are never going to find a single site that offers everything you want, but if you couple The Media Bullpen with and Stateline's education page, you are as close to comprehensive as you are going to get.

3) Last Week's Intercepts. EIA's blog, Intercepts, covered these topics from February 15-22:

*  On Wisconsin. Unions take to the streets to defend their collective bargaining agreements... which ban work stoppages and "any unauthorized concerted activity."

Restaurant Refuses to Quail Before Teacher Union Demands. Representing the working class makes a man hungry.

The Quail of Tears. Always look for the union label on your game bird.

Chuck Norris Fact: Teachers Unions Will Be Collectively Begging for Mercy. When Chuck Norris was in school, he would place his teachers in detention.

Is the Union President Still a Teacher? And should he sit on the superintendent search committee?

Friday Matinee. At last, clarity.

4) Quote of the Week #1. "There's definitely not a majority of the board that puts UTLA in the middle of every conversation or is concerned about needing to consult with them or get their blessing," said a board member who spoke on condition of anonymity, having no desire to offend even a diminished union. "Most of us roll our eyes when things come up with UTLA because they're less and less influential in the conversations we're having." (emphasis added) - from a February 18 Los Angeles Times report on how the United Teachers Los Angeles is losing its clout.

Quote of the Week #2. "I'm released from the classroom ... because of the size of the district, and because the local school board and superintendent see the value of having a teacher fulfilling these full-time activities as a voice for teachers." - Davis Education Association president Susan Firmage, testifying before the Utah House Education Committee against a bill that would forbid paying teachers on union leave. Firmage is on full-time release, but claims "all of her activities during the day are for the district." (February 16 Salt Lake Tribune)


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