Colorado School Districts Collect PAC Funds for Teacher Unions

Published September 1, 2004

What if your health insurance provider took a fee out of your paycheck every month to pay for its political agenda, which you might not support? What if the company you worked for didn’t know it was collecting those political contributions from its employees on behalf of the insurance company?

That’s similar to the situation Colorado public school teachers are in, with a monthly payroll deduction set up by their school district employer to collect political contributions for the Colorado teacher unions. According to two recent studies from the Independence Institute, a Golden, Colorado-based think tank, this is one of two perks the teacher union has negotiated for itself, the other being getting paid for teaching while out of school on union business.

In the first report, “Should Colorado School Districts Stop Collecting Political Funds?” Education Policy Center Director Pamela Benigno and Project Research Associate Mark Salley show how public school payroll systems collect political contributions to the teacher unions.

The 37,000-member Colorado Education Association (CEA) raises much of its political money through the Every Member Option (EMO) program, paid for in part by a refundable $24 annual contribution from member teachers. Some local CEA affiliates also take additional refundable deductions, up to $24 a year, from their members.

Benigno and Salley found many of Colorado’s largest school districts were unaware they assist in collecting union political funds. The study also revealed some CEA members didn’t know how to get a full EMO refund–or that they could get a refund at all. Some were completely unaware of the EMO program.

Normally, a group that promotes a political cause must ask its contributors for money and persuade them its cause or candidate deserves support. But the union can take teachers’ money and then place the burden on individual teachers to ask for a refund each year.

Benigno and Salley propose a series of reforms, with their ideal being to prohibit school districts from making payroll deductions for any union fees. They point out that electronic technology is widely available to facilitate deductions through bank drafts.

In lieu of that preferred reform, they recommend prohibiting school districts from collecting political funds or, at a minimum, providing a complete disclosure of how a teacher’s salary withholdings are being spent.

Taxpayers Finance Union Business

The second study, “Take Public Funds off the Negotiating Table: Let Teachers’ Unions Finance Their Own Business,” by the present author, examines Colorado’s 41 school districts with collective bargaining agreements to see how much taxpayer money is spent to subsidize teacher unions through paid release time. The report estimates the teacher unions save at least $750,000 a year in expenses by negotiating for districts to finance some of their business.

Most of the 41 districts grant allotments of paid leave days for union activities, including attendance at the annual CEA Delegate Assembly. In Jefferson County R-1, Colorado’s largest school district, the negotiated master agreement grants the local union affiliate 275 annual leave days and requires the district to pay both the released teacher and the substitute in the classroom.

About half of the 41 districts also grant extended leave to union presidents. In some cases the union must reimburse the school district for only part of the union president’s salary and benefits, with net subsidies for 2003-04 ranging from $12,000 to $56,000. In addition, the presidents can advance on the salary scale without teaching in a classroom during the school year.

Such generous benefits are unheard of in the private sector. The report recommends either requiring teachers to take personal leave for union business or making unions fully reimburse school districts for their use of paid leave.

Ben DeGrow ([email protected]) is an education policy research associate with the Independence Institute in Golden, Colorado.

For more information …

The Independence Institute’s January 31, 2004 Issue Paper 4-2004, “Should Colorado School Districts Stop Collecting Political Funds?” by Mark W. Salley and Pamela Benigno, is available online at A Backgrounder summary is available at

The Independence Institute’s February 1, 2004 Issue Paper 5-2004, “Take Public Funds off the Negotiating Table: Let Teachers’ Unions Finance Their Own Business,” by Benjamin DeGrow, is available online at A Backgrounder summary is available at