Kansas Teachers Leave State and National Unions

Published June 1, 2009

Early this year a group of teachers in Kansas joined a growing list of educators nationwide who are disappointed with the representation they receive from national and state-based teacher unions, decertifying themselves from the Kansas National Education Association and National Education Association.

The process started last November, when several teachers in Riley County, Kansas formed a new association, making Riley County Educators (RCE) the official representative for the district. The Association of American Educators (AAE) will provide liability insurance and legal protection for the new association.

“In the past five years, this is the sixth successful effort of educators decertifying or disaffiliating from the state and national unions, including California, Iowa, Washington, Illinois, Michigan, and now Kansas,” said AAE Associate Director Heather Reams.

In a March 30, 2009 interview with the Independence Institute, a free-market think tank based in Golden, Colorado, RCE spokesman Gary Sigle explained that last year only 14 of the county’s 56 teachers were NEA members, which gave those 14 members exclusive bargaining power. Others wanted a greater say in what was going on locally.

Benefits Abound

For teachers, the main benefits of decertifying from the big unions are saving money and gaining local control.

“Teachers are paying union dues, between $500 and $1,000 per year, and feel they aren’t getting value for their hard-earned money,” Reams explained. “A local-only teacher organization allows teachers to use their personal, limited resources much more effectively and get more services for considerably less.”

Teachers worried about losing their job protection benefits and liability insurance are reassured by the AAE, which offers those services at a price far lower than the NEA’s, Reams said.

Political Independence

Another reason teachers are decertifying from the national unions has to do with the unions’ intense involvement in and monetary contributions to political causes on one side of the ideological divide.

“Some teachers who disagree with the more liberal political activities of the larger union bodies may find refuge in dealing with their professional concerns on a local level,” said Ben DeGrow, an education policy analyst at the Independence Institute. “What’s better for educators is more options. One size does not fit all in student learning, nor does one size fit all in teacher representation.

“Relatively few teachers are aware of the alternatives available to them, and the laws in most states make it difficult for them to exercise some of those options,” DeGrow added. “Teachers would be better served by laws that protect their rights to know about their professional options, and it should be as easy for teachers to leave a union or other membership group as it is to join.”

“This move is a win-win for teachers and taxpayers,” said John LaPlante, an education policy analyst at the Flint Hills Center for Public Policy, a free-market think tank in Kansas. “Teachers can have someone looking out for their interests, without the sometimes-noxious politics of the NEA involved. Taxpayers can rest assured that local people, not national union officials tied to big cities far outside of Kansas, will be addressing local concerns.”

Sarah McIntosh ([email protected]) teaches constitutional law and American politics at Wichita State University in Kansas.