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June 11, 2012

1)  NEA Admits, "Things Will Never Go Back to the Way They Were." The National Education Association took a body blow when it failed to recall Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, but even before the results were known, the union's national leadership recognized that the serious troubles it faced extended far beyond a single state.

As reported here two weeks ago, NEA plans a reorganization to concentrate its efforts on stemming the loss of revenue and membership and establishing a better public image. Whether it will succeed is open to debate, but judging by the budget numbers presented to the union's representative bodies, NEA's lofty position as the most powerful political force in education is in serious doubt.

The union's reorganization is being introduced to NEA activists this way:

"After a year of unprecedented membership losses driven by economic stresses and political attacks, the National Education Association stands at a crossroads. Unlike in the past, our shrinking membership is not the sole product of a down economy from which we could expect to eventually recover. The forces impacting us are so strong that they have indelibly changed our industry, the educational system, and society at large. Things will never go back to the way they were. Attacks on collective bargaining and the role of the union, the nation's changing demographics, education reform efforts, and an explosion in the use of education technology and online learning have radically changed the role of educators and the system of educating our nation's students."

In response to these losses, NEA will establish organizing as a "core function." Its rationale is the union's need to address previous shortcomings in the area:

"This Core Function was developed to address a challenge that has been building for years but that was exacerbated and highlighted by the political hostility being faced by public sector unions. That challenge revolves around membership, which first manifested by declining growth and now has deteriorated into stark losses. Member growth has not kept pace with growth among educators for a long time and of utmost concern is that current and anticipated educator growth is in areas where NEA's market share is lowest. The centerpiece of the work here is to test effective value propositions for all membership classes, develop a culture of organizing to drive more effective member recruitment, retention, and relevance and by doing so, build Association and member capacity. All resources, products and lessons learned will be disseminated broadly."

This is the first time I have seen NEA admit to its loss of market share even in the fat years. If unable to rely on exclusivity provisions in collective bargaining agreements to boost and maintain membership, NEA faces the same slow deterioration in member numbers that has been the bane of private sector unions for decades.

I have culled the membership figures from NEA's last four budget years to compare with the union's proposed figures for the next two, to better illustrate the trends. NEA has around 3 million total members, but it has to budget based on full-time equivalents because the merged state affiliates of Florida, Minnesota, Montana and New York split their national dues (in varying percentages) between NEA and AFT. What the following figures represent then, is the number of members NEA budgeted for, without double-counting those who also belong to AFT. These figures include retirees, students and agency fee-payers.

2008-09: 2,671,700

2009-10: 2,683,700 (+4.5%) (+0.4%)

2010-11: 2,653,200 (-1.1%)

2011-12: 2,593,200 (-2.3%)

2012-13: 2,410,200 (-7.1%)

2013-14: 2,345,200 (-2.7%)

You have to go all the way back to 1999-2000 to find an NEA budget with membership projections as low as the ones for 2013-14. NEA is planning for a cumulative loss of 346,000 full-time equivalent active, working members from its high-water mark just three years ago. That would be a drop of almost 15 percent.

The only budget category marked for increases is aid to state and local affiliates, which is NEA's largest expenditure. This will help faltering affiliates, but may also result in throwing good money after bad into affiliates that might conceivably disappear entirely without such subsidies.

If even NEA has come to the realization that there will be no return to its salad days, we have already reached a point I never thought we would see. Now it really is a battle over what comes next.

2)  Last Week's Intercepts. EIA's blog, Intercepts, covered these topics from June 5-11:

*  After the Recall: Six Things We Can Lay to Rest. Including the "union household" statistic.

WEAC Admits to Losing 20,000 Members. Eventually we'll find out if they're telling the truth.

WEAC Pretending Nothing Happened. At some point after the polls closed, the election became about John Lehman.

Introducing the "Reekies" for Most Noteworthy Post-Recall Comments. How to back away from an election you yourself called.

The Creepy School District Border Patrol. Imagine the uproar if they tried this to check the voter registration rolls.

*  Air Force Bake Sale Not a Great Day for Schools After All. Be careful what you wish for.

3)  Quote of the Week #1. "No teacher or union leader wants anything but qualified and excellent instructors in our classrooms. A ballot fight would be divisive and costly, diverting public attention and resources from narrowing the achievement gap, improving education funding and other priorities to help students succeed." - Paul Toner, president of the Massachusetts Teachers Association, after brokering a deal with Stand for Children Massachusetts that would allow teacher effectiveness to take priority over seniority in personnel decisions. In exchange, Stand for Children will drop a ballot initiative with stricter language. (June 8 Associated Press)

Quote of the Week #2. "[Our members are] relatively disgusted." - Richard Stutman, president of the Boston Teachers Union, speaking about the compromise. (June 9 Boston Globe)


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