A listening post monitoring public education and teachers’ unions.

NEA Representative Assembly 2015: Rebel Yell

Written By: Mike Antonucci - Jul• 04•15

The delegates spent almost two hours debating NBI 11, which called on NEA to support efforts “to remove the Confederate flag and other symbols of the Confederacy from public schools and public spaces.”

It took that long because the “other symbols of the Confederacy” were a little too vague and widespread for the delegates. Ultimately they approved language that simply called for the removal of the Confederate battle flag from public schools and spaces.

It might seem an unusually excessive amount of time to spend on the issue, but I seem to recall last year’s debate over the Washington Redskins name taking quite a while, too.

The delegates also spent a long time on Constitutional Amendment 1, which would grant full RA representation to states where NEA and AFT affiliates have merged. I don’t want to lose you in the complexities of it, but New York will serve as a quick example.

When NEA New York merged with New York State United Teachers, it was only about one-twelfth the size of NYSUT. Merger guidelines required that the national dues be split proportionately between NEA and AFT – 8 percent to NEA, 92 percent to AFT. NEA delegate representation was limited to that percentage. So while NYSUT has over 375,000 active members, it sends only 8 percent of the delegates to which it would otherwise be entitled.

The amendment, voted on by secret ballot tomorrow, would give NYSUT and the other four merged affiliates 100 percent of their allotment, thereby greatly increasing their relative power in the assembly.

There wasn’t much debate, but an awful lot of questions. All the arguments in favor seemed to come from the merged affiliates, which doesn’t bode well for a two-thirds majority needed to pass. The New Jersey delegation in particular was determined to defeat it.

Constitutional Amendment 2, which would have changed the RA to biennial, was withdrawn. Bylaw Amendment B, which would make permanent the $20 assessment each NEA member pays to the Ballot Measure/Legislative Crises and Media funds, was introduced, but not debated at all. It, too, will be voted on by secret ballot tomorrow.

Unfortunately the delegates have completed action only through NBI 11, and there are evidently 122 NBIs in total. At this rate it promises to be a very, very late night on Monday.


NEA Representative Assembly 2015: What Happened to Playing the Long Game?

Written By: Mike Antonucci - Jul• 04•15

This morning’s agenda unfolded slowly. NBI 5, which would have put NEA squarely behind the opt-out movement, was defeated. Then there was about 45 minutes devoted to NBI 6, which would have organized a march and rally in Washington DC at next year’s convention. The projected cost was $1.2 million, which was a major factor in its defeat.

NEA executive director John Stocks delivered his annual speech, and in the interest of reducing my usual level of snarkiness, I’ll simply direct you to the full text of his remarks.

It’s both a blessing and a curse to remember the events of past RAs, and I seem to recall that Stocks’ theme last year had to do with NEA’s skill at “playing the long game.” He was convinced the union would weather the storm and return stronger than ever.

Today, eight months after virtually all of NEA’s endorsed candidates lost in national and gubernatorial elections, Stocks is now convinced that the union and America are in the midst of a “movement moment” that will lead to a “new American majority” devoted to a panoply of progressive causes.

He concluded by shouting, “NEA, this is our time! This is our moment! This is our movement!”

It seemed odd, considering NEA is expending considerable effort – even at this RA – tamping down the most progressive elements of its own membership.

This afternoon, delegates will debate constitutional and bylaws amendments that they will vote on by secret ballot tomorrow morning. These all have significant ramifications for NEA, dealing with full representation for merged state affiliates, making the RA biennial, making permanent the special assessment for the ballot initiative and media funds, and devoting funds to organize charter schools.


NEA Representative Assembly 2015: There’s No Business Like New Business

Written By: Mike Antonucci - Jul• 04•15

More than 80 new business items (NBIs) have been submitted so far, which means we may end up beating the record (110, if memory serves). Here are a few of note, with editorial asides in parentheses:

NBI 5: Calls on NEA to directly join and support the opt-out movement.

NBI 15: That NEA investigate creating a “union friendly” label for businesses. “The label could be displayed as people enter, similar to the Better Business Bureau or a Zagat rating.”

NBI 23: “NEA will not accept monetary sponsorship or be affiliated with any foundation or corporation that is linked to the negative public education reform movement and or has participated in the privatization of public education…. These foundations and corporations would include current sponsors of NEA; such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Microsoft, and Pearson.” (My badge lanyard is sponsored by Lysol.)

NBI 33: “That delegates avoid purchasing food or beverages from Papa John’s, a company that uses anti-worker practices.” (I suggest you avoid Papa John’s because they make nasty pizza.)

NBI 36: Calls on NEA to support the full repeal of California’s 1992 charter school law. (Should be a show-stopper during CTA’s next charter school union organizing drive.)

NBI 41: “NEA will, through closed social media, broadcast the NEA-RA for members to watch in the comfort of their homes, offices, or on their electronic devices.” (Please approve this so I can stay home next year.)

NBI 54: “The NEA will cease promotion of Common Core State Standard (CCSS) and associated testing in order to allow sufficient time for critical examination of current CCSS implementation.”

NBI 80: “NEA will encourage state and local affiliates to remove Coca-Cola products (including Dasani, Fanta, Minute Maid, Nestea, Odwalla, PowerAde, and Sprite) from their facilities and official functions. Further, the NEA will inform members of Coca-Cola’s unfair labor practices.” (You’ll need something else to wash away the taste of that Papa John’s pizza.)

Thirty-five of the remaining 78 NBIs submitted so far for debate came from California delegates.

There will be plenty more to follow over the next three days, but this should get you started.


NEA Representative Assembly 2015: Membership Math, One More Time

Written By: Mike Antonucci - Jul• 04•15

I know I’m the only one in the hall who cares at all, but I want to address once again the claim that NEA membership increased in 2014-15, using photographic evidence.

Here are the membership slides, showing the numbers as of June 23, 2014 and June 18, 2015:


Take a look at each category: Active certified actually down almost 9,000, Active ESP down more than 5,000, Active Life down almost 1,800, students down 2,800. Retirees are the only category that went up (7,000) which isn’t really great because those people used to be full-dues-paying active members. The number of agency fee-payers (not included in the totals) rose by more than 12,500, which is a good news/bad news sort of thing: good if they were previously not in a bargaining unit, bad if they were previously members.

Then there is the “others” category, which wasn’t even included last year, but has more than 8,400 members this year. If we compare apples to apples almost exactly one year apart, we have a decrease of 11,584 members.

More power to you if you can magically turn that into a 14,353 member increase and no one notices, but I’ll stick with traditional arithmetic.


NEA Representative Assembly 2015: “You Are the Future of Everything”

Written By: Mike Antonucci - Jul• 03•15

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.


NEA Representative Assembly 2015: Compared to What, When?

Written By: Mike Antonucci - Jul• 03•15

I haven’t even gotten to the hall yet and already I’m looking askance at something. As expected, NEA announced an increase in membership. Good news for them.

Politico reported the union went from “2,956,532 members in 2013-14 to 2,970,886 in 2014-15 as of mid-June.”

That’s an increase, no doubt about it. Except that last year, at exactly this time, NEA reported a total of 2,974,042 members. Here’s a photo of the slide used to illustrate.


I’m sorry the headings were cut off, but there were 2,622,214 active members, 51,951 student members, and 299,877 retired members, for a total of 2,974,042. This year’s numbers would then mean a small loss.

My guess is that the 2013-14 number NEA used for comparison came from the end of the summer of 2014. The summer months, naturally, are when teachers’ unions experience their largest losses, as the end of the school year is when most education employees retire or move on.

The breakdown by state isn’t available, and making sense of the numbers is more problematic than it ought to be, but it’s also possible that in a couple of years these membership numbers will look like the glory days.


Heigh Ho, Heigh Ho, It’s Off to Orlando I Go

Written By: Mike Antonucci - Jul• 02•15

The 2015 National Education Representative Assembly convenes tomorrow morning at the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando, Florida. I’ll post my first report tomorrow afternoon or evening.

Fortunately for NEA, many state delegations have attendance incentives involving reimbursement of travel expenses. Otherwise it might be very lonely in that hall.