Opening day of the 2015 National Education Association Representative Assembly (RA) featured the first keynote speech of president Lily Eskelsen Garcia.
She delivered a recap of NEA’s long history and involvement with federal legislation. You can read it in its entirety here. I’ve listened to 18 RA keynote speeches and can no longer endeavor to be a judge of their quality. The delegates enjoyed it, but there weren’t any set-the-building-ablaze moments.
Still, two things made an impression and should be of interest to outside observers.
1) The focus for immediate action was to support the Senate “Every Child Achieves Act,” a reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. Eskelsen Garcia announced it would be debated on the Senate floor next week.
That was noteworthy, but even more so because it was preceded by a speech from American Federation of Teachers president (and NEA member via the merged state of New York) Randi Weingarten. Weingarten also used a good portion of her remarks to boost the Senate bill, and both presidents were not short of praise for it.
However, the bill keeps the same annual testing schedule of No Child Left Behind. This might not sit well with the unions’ internal “opt out” crowd, and NEA/AFT support for the bill puts it on the opposite side of some pretty powerful civil rights groups.
They’re going for it without equivocation nonetheless. We’ll see if it ends up being a political plus or minus.
2) Eskelsen Garcia told her audience, “You are the NEA. You are the future of everything.” Those words might have resonated better if she had not been addressing only 6,724 delegates – the smallest number since I started covering the NEA convention in 1998.
It has long been a tradition of NEA RAs to propose solutions to the world’s problems while overlooking their own. This is a greatly diminished organization whose candidates were thrashed in the 2014 elections, which now has organized hordes of Democrats opposing it, which faces internal challenges on its left flank, and which may be one year away from the nationwide elimination of agency fees in the public sector.
Executive director John Stocks will speak tomorrow, and he may be readying some fire and brimstone to address these problems, but this union should stop thinking about the future of everything and start thinking about the future of NEA.