Gearing up to Influence November Elections

Published September 1, 2000

At the National Education Association’s annual Representative Assembly in Chicago on July 3-6, teacher union officials detailed the organization’s campaign strategy for supporting pro-public education candidates and ballot measures in the November elections. In addition, officials laid out the union’s legislative priorities for the 107th Congress.

Politics in the NEA

As it has since 1976, the NEA endorsed the Democratic candidate for President, with 89 percent of this year’s Assembly delegates voting to endorse Al Gore.

Anticipating several close races, the union will dispatch its staff to 25 targeted campaigns, including the Gore campaign, from August 28 to November 7. The NEA has allocated $3.5 million from member dues to gain a majority in the U.S. House of Representatives. From the member dues special assessment of $7.5 million, the union plans to contribute substantially to defeat the tuition voucher in Michigan, a voucher initiative in California, and other ballot initiatives deemed hostile to public education.

The California Teachers Association has doubled the per-capita assessment of its 278,000 members. Each will now pay $38–in addition to $416 unified dues–to help fight the ballot issue, which would give parents $4,000 for each K-12 student to be used at the school of their choice.

Republican-bashing from the Assembly podium was commonplace–from Vice-President Gore, Secretary of Education Richard Riley, NEA President Bob Chase, and some delegates. But other delegates, irritated by the one-sided partisanship, left the hall when Gore spoke. The 30 NEA Republican Caucus members debated whether to write a letter to Chase protesting the “grossly unfair and biased presentation of Governor George W. Bush in the Al Gore promotional video shown at the RA” the day before Gore’s appearance.

Budget for 2000-2001

Budgeted income for NEA’s fiscal year 2000-2001 is $244.2 million, including external recoveries, reimbursements from affiliates, and sources outside the association. The budget includes $2 million for a contingency fund from which the nine-member NEA Executive Committee and 165-member Board of Directors approve state affiliate requests.

In fiscal year 1999-2000, contingency fund expenditures included $200,000 “to assist the California Teachers Association pass Proposition 26, an initiative to reduce the supermajority requirement for local bond measures,” and $750,000 “to assist the Michigan Education Association with the All Kids First Campaign,” an initiative intended to defeat the Kids First! Yes! voucher initiative on this November’s ballot.

NEA’s Unified Legal Services Program is budgeted for $28.9 million in 2000-2001.

Of the $82 million budgeted for state and local projects, $57.5 million is budgeted for “UniServ staff and implementation of the UniServ program.” The NEA’s 1,500 UniServ directors are trained political operatives who assist state and local affiliates in identifying candidates to run for school board, county, or state office, organize telephone banks and absentee ballot programs, and serve as negotiators for local associations.

Legislative Agenda

Every delegate to the July Assembly received a packet that included a report titled Advancing NEA’s Legislative Program, July 2000. The report identified “making major inroads with key members of both parties” among its legislative victories through May 12, 2000.

Nevertheless, the union emphasized that public education remains threatened by “block grant programs, and proposals to divert funds from public education through private school vouchers and tax subsidies.” The Legislative Program termed “opponents of public education” as anyone who supported those measures.

By contrast, the NEA supports candidates for “modernizing public schools, reducing class size, and providing the necessary resources to ensure all children a quality public education.”

Not surprisingly, the strategic priorities of the NEA for the 107th Congress include strengthening public schools, increased federal funding for education, and support for “a federal statute that would guarantee meaningful collective bargaining rights to the employees of public schools, colleges, universities, and other postsecondary institutions.”

“To protect education funding revenue streams,” delegates passed a New Business Item opposing any extension of the tax-free status of the Internet. This action illustrates the NEA’s opposition to any measure that would cap, reduce, eliminate any source of government revenue. It also helps explain why the union’s allies are other interest groups dependent on revenues from government or litigation.

Major U.S. Corporations Slammed

At a pre-convention meeting at the Rainbow Coalition/Operation PUSH headquarters on July 1, delegates were urged to donate funds to send the Rev. Jesse Jackson to Mississippi to challenge the suspicious number of black inmate suicides in Mississippi prisons. Much of the discussion addressed the high proportion of black inmates in U.S. prisons.

NEA Vice President Reg Weaver asked, Why does the U.S. send a higher percentage of its population to jail than any other nation? He suggested it was because U.S. corporations use prison labor to pay workers less, thereby increasing their profits. (Corporations do not pay Social Security taxes for prison labor, nor do they pay as much for wages and benefits.) Weaver identified IBM, Starbucks, AT&T, and Nike among several U.S. corporations he claimed strive to increase the prison population as a pool for cheap labor.

Dr. Myron Lieberman is widely recognized as the nation’s leading authority on education employment relations and teacher unions. Charlene K. Haar is the author of groundbreaking studies of the National PTA. Lieberman and Haar are chairman and president respectively of the Education Policy Institute