Indiana State Teachers Association on Track to Fiscal Solvency… by 2027

It has been eight-and-a-half years since the Indiana State Teachers Association’s insurance trust went belly-up due to bad investments and mismanagement. The remedies included staff layoffs, a $40-per-member dues increase, and the sale of the union’s headquarters building to a newly established NEA real estate firm.

ISTA did get one thing right. It told its activists in 2010 that the union “will be reporting a substantial negative net worth for the next 17 years.”

A look at the latest numbers shows ISTA still owes NEA $10.5 million, but it has steadily paid NEA $1 million each year. If it can keep to those repayments, it should free itself of the obligation right on schedule, in 2027.

Of course by then the entire teacher union world may look vastly different. Both ISTA and NEA should be able to return to their respective status quo, but the next state affiliate to sabotage its own finances won’t find an NEA bailout so easy to obtain.

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A Question Rarely Asked

How many K-12 teachers does Vermont need?

Back in August the Learning Policy Institute asked “Where Have All the Teachers Gone?” The answer, evidently, is Vermont.

The state’s precipitous decline in student enrollment has led to… an escalating climb in the hiring of K-12 school employees. Public schools now have one employee for every four students.

Vermont Gov. Phil Scott thinks schools could get along fine with one employee for every five students, saving taxpayers about $100 million.

Vermont NEA reacted in a predictable manner: “Gov. Scott Wants to Fire Hundreds of Educators.”

You might think Gov. Scott’s plan is a harsh and abrupt way to deal with the situation, but I wandered back to the EIA Communiqué of April 6, 2009 and found an item I headlined “Vermont School Funding Mystery Solved“:

Public school enrollment in Vermont declined for the 13th consecutive year, and the state’s tax commissioner wants to know why education funding keeps increasing.

Hmmm, that’s a tough one. Could it have something to do with the fact that the state has 92,572 students and 19,145 full-time equivalent education employees? If California had a similar ratio, it would have almost 1.3 million school employees, of whom more than 650,000 would be classroom teachers.

The student-to-staff ratio then was 4.83 to 1, so Gov. Scott’s solution is simply to return to the slightly less untenable ratio of eight years ago.

So when you read your next teacher shortage story, remember that the number of teachers hired will always rise to the amount of money made available, without regard to the number of students enrolled.

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Winner of NEA PAC Giveaway Got Locked Away

This one is just bizarre.

I spent most of yesterday going through the National Education Association 2017 financial disclosure report to the U.S. Department of Labor. (If you want a comprehensive look at those numbers, you can’t do better than RiShawn Biddle’s November 30 piece at Dropout Nation.)

As I was churning through 354 pages of itemized expenditures, one entry caught my eye.

Before I go on, let me explain what the “RA Giveaway” is. Each year at the NEA Representative Assembly, the delegates spend a lot of time soliciting donations for the union’s federal PAC. They generate many incentives to contribute, but the biggest is the PAC giveaway. At the end of each of the four days of the convention, a name is drawn and that person wins a cash prize. The first day’s winner gets $5,000, the second day $7,500, the third day $10,000 and the final day $15,000. They get their picture taken with a giant check.

We can deduce that since Robert B. Bulk of Atchison, Kansas, won $10,000, he was the third-day winner at the 2016 NEA Representative Assembly in Washington DC. That was July 6.

At the time, Bulk was the president of the Atchison Education Association and a member of the Kansas NEA board of directors. The NEA leadership was at least minimally aware of him.

There is no photo of Bulk receiving his giant check, but you don’t have to be physically present at the time of the announcement to win. We do know that his good fortune was short-lived.

The very next day “officers executed a search warrant July 7 at Bulk’s residence where they seized computer equipment, some pornographic DVDs, CD-R CDs and other items belonging to Bulk. It was also there, during execution of the search warrant, when police discovered marijuana inside a container that was in a bedroom closet.”

Police arrested Bulk on July 8 on felony charges of electronic solicitation involving a child under the age of consent and sexual exploitation of a child.

On August 1 the Atchison school board suspended Bulk with pay.

On December 7 Bulk plead guilty to the two felonies.

On December 9 he resigned from his teaching job.

On January 9 he was sentenced to 68 months in prison.

NEA reported the payments to the three other PAC giveaway winners on last year’s disclosure, using the dates of the drawings in July. Only the payment of Bulk’s winnings was delayed until September. This may be because Bulk was not present at the drawing and/or the subsequent transfer of his winnings was problematic due to the police investigation.

There is no moral to this story – unless you want to note that Bulk never lost a day of pay and was allowed to resign. It’s just a weird turn of events.

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Don’t Pass Laws You Can’t Enforce

The Raleigh News & Observer presented a false dilemma last week when it published a story with the headline, “Is North Carolina’s biggest teachers’ lobby breaking the law, or being targeted?” Both things can be true at once.

The state’s Republican majority moved a bill through the state legislature in 2014 that requires public employee associations to have more than 40,000 members in order to be eligible for paycheck deduction of dues. At the time, only one organization met that threshold, the North Carolina Association of Educators.

Since then, NCAE has experienced a dramatic downturn in fortune. It currently has fewer than 33,000 members.

The law gives the state auditor the responsibility of determining NCAE’s membership totals. Each year he does this by asking them. Each year they refuse to answer. The auditor has no authority to compel a response.

NCAE is required to provide its total membership numbers to the National Education Association each year, however, so it is no mystery that the organization does not meet the payroll deduction requirement and hasn’t for years.

Still, what’s the point of having the law? If it is meant to cut off NCAE’s paycheck deduction privileges, why doesn’t it have an enforcement mechanism?

Cut off private organization access to public paychecks or leave them all alone. As the song goes, don’t mess with Mr. In-Between.

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