NEA Convention 2010: Internal vs. External Math

Greetings from New Orleans, where the 2010 National Education Association Representative Assembly begins tomorrow morning. There have been committee and caucus meetings all week, and today’s highlight was the open hearing on NEA’s strategic plan and budget.

It has been almost 30 years since NEA has had to budget for a loss in membership, and the figures displayed by the union’s budget committee form an interesting contrast to those surrounding the edujobs bill. The House passed the Obey amendment, which will provide $10 billion to school districts to save the jobs of education employees (if it passes the Senate and avoids a threatened Presidential veto). NEA estimates the amendment will save 138,000 jobs.

But those 138,000 jobs must be overhelmingly in AFT districts, or states with independent teacher groups, or charter schools, since NEA budgeted for a loss of only 35,000 active members (working teachers and support employees). NEA Secretary-Treasurer Becky Pringle called this “a conservative estimate,” which in context meant it might not be that many. She specifically stated the budget did not assume the jobs bill would pass.

If NEA itself isn’t budgeting on the belief that 300,000 education employees will lose their jobs - or 200,000 - or 100,000 - or 50,000 - why is Congress?

Since the national dues level is tied to average teacher salary, the 2010-11 NEA budget increased $2.2 million to $358 million. In the days and weeks to come, I’ll have more on where that money will go. In the short term, the big ticket item is reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). NEA plans to dedicate $5 million from its Ballot Measure/Legislative Crisis Fund to its efforts to overhaul the law - adding to the $7.1 million it allocated from its general fund this year and next.

In other news, the new business items generated by the NEA board of directors have a combative tone, considering Democratic control of the legislative and executive branches.

New Business Item A declares that “NEA opposes any effort by the United States Department of Education or its Secretary (collectively, the ‘Department’), states or school districts, to undermine educators’ rights or the basic right of all students to have access to a great public school.”

It goes on to list what it wants the Department to do, including “Focus on supporting and creating great public schools, rather than supporting private charters or other programs that undermine the stability of great public schools.”

New Business Item D states that “the curriculum taught to millions of children nationwide should not be held hostage to the ideological whims of political extremists.”

New Business Item 1, from the Arkansas Education Association, calls on NEA to launch a PR campaign “countering misperceptions about our profession and what we represent,” and then “educate the public on the pitfalls educators fact, such as high stakes testing, merit pay and Race to the Top.” This is needed because “We have allowed right wing pundits to define the agenda with poor ideas and bad research.”

Finally, I learned today that Mark Airgood and Ceresta Smith of the group By Any Means Necessary are running for seats on the NEA Executive Committee. My endorsement would undoubtedly have a detrimental effect on their campaign, but how can I miss the opportunity to subject the NEA leadership to the “divisive mischief” and “tiresome tirades” of some “wacky Trotskyists” known for “relentlessly smearing their opponents.”

I can think of no better place for them to serve. Vote Airgood and Smith!