At the National Education Association Representative Assembly in Houston last week, delegates voted down New Business Item 59, which read:
The NEA demands that all candidates seeking our union’s endorsement publicly state their opposition to all charter school expansion. That would mean repudiating the policies of Arne Duncan and Betsy DeVos. The NEA will publicize this demand by all appropriate means.
There seems to be universal sentiment that this was a major statement by the 6,000 delegates.
Politico: “The vote could signal how tricky this issue may be for unions. While they have blamed charter school growth in some states for taking money away from traditional public schools, some charter school teachers are members of unions.”
Rick Hess at AEIdeas: “In what struck many as a surprising twist, especially in a time of progressive militancy and when Democrats have been more likely to denounce charter schools than defend them, the NEA membership voted the motion down. In other words, the NEA’s Representative Assembly left the way open for the NEA to endorse a Democrat more inclined to seek middle ground on charters.”
ICEUFT Blog (a caucus within New York City’s teachers’ union): “Its rejection by the NEA could mean the NEA and AFT are leaning toward a safe middle of the road endorsement for POTUS.”
All these things may be true, but they had little to do with why NEA delegates voted down NBI 59.
First, it was introduced by Mark Airgood of the Oakland Education Association. Airgood is a prominent member of By Any Means Necessary (BAMN) and operates on the leftmost fringe of the teachers’ union. He and his compatriots are responsible for many of the incendiary NBIs that come before the representative assembly.
His rationale for NBI 59 was “Charter schools exist for one purpose: to cheapen education and strip young people and their families of the right to a public education. Equal, quality public education for all cannot be accomplished by the market economy.”
Although NEA delegates are considerably more liberal than the average American, they are not in the BAMN camp. Airgood is a perennial candidate for NEA higher office. This year he ran for a seat on the union’s executive committee and picked up 2.9% of the vote.
His NBI came with an additional cost to the NEA budget of $134,745. That alone might have put an end to the idea, but the real reason NBI 59 lost was because it attached a new string to the NEA endorsement process.
After the behind-the-scenes subterfuge that accompanied NEA’s endorsement of Hillary Clinton in 2016, delegates have introduced a number of measures to alter the union’s presidential endorsement process, and they all have gone down to defeat.
What isn’t well understood is that although NEA has a series of representative bodies that vote on presidential endorsements — the PAC Council, the Board of Directors and the Representative Assembly — their vote is only to concur or not with the choice made by the NEA President.
It’s conceivable, though unlikely, that these bodies could keep rejecting candidates until it gets the one it wants. But it’s also true that the NEA President could refuse to put forward another candidate for a vote.
This played out in the 2008 Democratic primaries when there was considerable NEA support for Hillary Clinton in a close race. However, then-NEA President Reg Weaver was an Obama supporter. He didn’t send any endorsement to the union’s representative bodies and NEA didn’t end up endorsing Obama until after he clinched the nomination.
In short, the delegate vote on NBI 59 ensured that NEA President Lily Eskelsen-García, in the last year of her term, would be unencumbered in her choice of candidate. She might make that choice with due consideration of what it means for the union’s charter school strategies, or she might not.
Both Obama and Hillary were wobbly (by NEA standards) on charter schools and the union endorsed them anyway. John Kerry was wobbly on performance pay. On the other hand, it’s a different world now, and the union might have a litmus test on a wide variety of issues.
How and if it gets applied, however, is up to one person: Lily Eskelsen-García.