Colorado Teacher Unions Revise PAC Deduction Policies

Published October 1, 2004

Prompted by recommendations from a recent Independence Institute study, two of the largest local affiliates of the Colorado Education Association (CEA) have enacted procedural changes relating to the deduction of fees from teachers’ paychecks.

In Jefferson County, the largest school district in the state, the Jefferson County Education Association (JCEA) has added language to its online membership form to advise teachers that $48 of their fees is earmarked for financing political activities. The previous form did not inform teachers that part of their local and state dues would be used for political purposes. The form also now explains how members can receive a refund of those political contributions.

The change was triggered by the January 2004 publication of the Independence Institute’s Issue Paper, “Should Colorado School Districts Stop Collecting Political Funds?” by education policy director Pamela Benigno and research associate Mark Salley. The Golden-based think tank distributed nearly 2,000 copies of the study to Colorado policymakers and other key observers. In addition, Benigno presented the report’s findings in a number of forums, including television and radio.

Benigno and Salley’s in-depth report revealed many local CEA affiliates were providing less than full disclosure about payroll deductions for political activities. Most membership authorization forms did not inform teachers that a portion of the membership fee was designated for partisan political campaigns, nor were members informed they could request refunds of fees designated for political activities.

As well as prompting changes by JCEA, the report also prompted the Colorado Springs Education Association (CSEA) to lift restrictions on non-union member teachers who have to opt out of paying fees to the union. CSEA is one of five teacher union locals in Colorado that have negotiated with the school district to withhold an amount equivalent to dues from non-union member teachers’ paychecks.

Until recently, a teacher in Colorado Springs District 11 had to submit a revocation form before a September deadline to avoid sending more than $675 in “dues equivalency” to the CSEA, CEA, and National Education Association (NEA). Non-union members were required to submit a new revocation form every year, “on or before the tenth (10th) work day after receipt of the teacher’s first paycheck of the relevant school year.”

In a July 15 letter to all teachers who had revoked their “dues equivalency” for the 2003-04 school year, the CSEA told them “it is not necessary for you to sign a new revocation form this year.” It is unclear how long the policy will remain in effect, because the union and the school district did not amend the contract to reflect the new policy. Newly hired teachers who want to decline union membership and those who missed last year’s deadline still have to revoke their “dues equivalency.”

The Independence Institute’s study also prompted State Rep. Bill Cadman (R-Colorado Springs) to sponsor a bill that would have required an employee’s written authorization before a school district could withhold money from his or her paycheck for an employee organization. The CEA testified against the bill and its lobbying subsequently killed the measure.

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