If NEA Is Doing So Well, Why Is It Still Budgeting for a Massive Membership Loss?

There are a lot of numbers being thrown around concerning membership totals of the National Education Association after the first anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court’s Janus ruling. While union supporters and opponents have reason to spin the results in the press, both must come to grips with the basic outcome so far. By and large, members stayed and fee-payers left.

This leaves all of us trying to use this new information to predict the future. Some of the people paid to predict the future are the officers and members of NEA’s budget committee. Last year the committee had to generate a two-year budget prior to the Janus ruling. It sensibly planned for the worst case scenario, which was not only the loss of fee-payers, but the possibility that the court would require the union to re-sign its current members.

NEA does not budget according to warm bodies, but to full-dues equivalents. Support employee members pay about 60 percent of full dues, and fee-payers less than that, so it takes roughly two of them to make one full-dues equivalent member.

NEA had 2 million full-dues equivalent members working in public schools in 2017-18, and 31,000 full-dues equivalent fee-payers. Its forecast for this year was a loss of 155,000 FDE members and all the fee-payers for a total of 186,000. The union projected an additional FDE loss of 150,000 in 2019-20.

The worst case did not come to pass. The fee-payers disappeared, but retaining members meant NEA found itself with revenue much greater than budgeted. It immediately canceled planned staff and program cuts, but still had a surplus of $8.3 million, of which it devoted $3.3 million to Campaign 2020.

This has led to headlines like the one from Politico, “1 year after Janus, unions are flush.” So let’s return to NEA’s budget committee and see how it responded to this rosier scenario.

The union’s modified budget for 2019-20 forecasts 1,875,000 FDE active members, which is a six percent drop from current levels. That would be an unprecedented one-year membership loss.

We have only two choices of what’s going on:

a) NEA knows that more members are now aware of their resignation windows than there were immediately after the Janus ruling and has planned accordingly; or

b) NEA likes the idea of submitting low-ball budgets, freeing union headquarters to redistribute the resulting surplus wherever it sees fit.

I’m content to wait years to see how this pans out, but in the meantime be wary of reports claiming to have the definitive answer.