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|Members||3.2 million (2006) |
|Key people||Dennis Van Roekel, president|
|Office location||Washington, D.C.|
|Members||3.2 million (2006) |
|Key people||Dennis Van Roekel, president|
|Office location||Washington, D.C.|
The National Education Association (NEA) is the largest professional organization and largest labor union in the United States, representing public school teachers and other support personnel, faculty and staffers at colleges and universities, retired educators, and college students preparing to become teachers. The NEA has 3.2 million members and is headquartered in Washington, D.C. With affiliate organizations in every state and in more than 14,000 communities across the nation, it employs over 550 staff and had a budget of more than $307 million for the 2006–2007 fiscal year. Dennis Van Roekel is the NEA's current president.
NEA, which describes itself as a professional employee organization, is incorporated as a professional association in a few states and as a labor union in most. The group holds a congressional charter under Title 36 of the United States Code. It is not a member of the AFL–CIO, but is part of Education International, the global federation of teachers' unions. The NEA is a factor in modern liberalism, and typically supports the Democratic Party. Conservatives, libertarians, parents' rights groups, and others criticize it for opposing types of education reform designed to weaken unions, as well as provide what they claim to be a better learning experience for students.
The stated mission of the National Education Association is "to advocate for education professionals and to unite our members and the nation to fulfill the promise of public education to prepare every student to succeed in a diverse and interdependent world," as well as concerning itself with the wage and working condition issues common to other labor unions.
The NEA is a volunteer-based organization that relies upon its members to perform much of the Association's work. In turn, the members are supported by a network of staff at the local, state, and national levels. The stated goal of NEA's work is encapsulated in its vision: "building great public schools for every student."
At the local level, affiliates perform a variety of activities (as determined by the local members), which may range from raising funds for scholarship programs to conducting professional workshops on issues that affect faculty and school support staff to bargaining contracts for school district employees.
The activities of NEA state affiliates are equally wide-ranging. State affiliates regularly lobby state legislators for funding and other resources; they seek to influence education policy; they campaign for higher professional standards for educators and support professionals; and, they file legal actions to protect academic freedom and the rights of school employees. The extent to which the NEA and its state and local affiliates engage in political activities, especially during election cycles has, however, been a source of controversy. From 1989 to 2010 the NEA has spent approximately 36 million dollars on lobbying efforts according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
At the national level, the NEA lobbies the United States Congress and federal agencies on behalf of its members and public schools, works with other education organizations and friends of public education, provides training and assistance to its affiliates, and generally conducts activities consistent with the policies set by its elected governing bodies.
NEA's 3.2 million members are served by 14,000 local affiliates (including some 800 higher education affiliates), 51 state-level affiliates (50 state associations and the Federal Education Association), and roughly 555 staff members working at its headquarters in Washington, D.C., and in regional offices.
NEA members themselves set Association policy, most notably through the Representative Assembly or "RA." The RA—a delegation comprising elected representatives from each local and state affiliate, coalitions of student members and retired members, and other segments of the united education profession—is the primary legislative and policymaking body of the Association. The RA meets annually the first week of July to adopt a strategic plan and budget, make resolutions, and develop other policies that guide the work of the Association. Those delegates with full voting rights also elect the executive officers, Executive Committee members, and at-large members of the NEA Board of Directors as appropriate. The RA is the largest democratic deliberative assembly in the world and adheres to Roberts Rules of Order.
The executive officers of the Association are Dennis Van Roekel, President; Lily Eskelsen García, Vice President; and, Rebecca Pringle, Secretary-Treasurer. These three posts are elected by the Representative Assembly.
The Board of Directors and Executive Committee are responsible for the general policies and interests of the Association, and are subject to policies established by the Representative Assembly. The Board of Directors consists of one director from each state affiliate (plus an additional director for every 20,000 active members in the state), six directors for the Retired members, and three directors for the Student members. The Board also includes at-large representatives of ethnic minorities, administrators, classroom teachers in higher education, and active members employed in educational support positions. The Executive Committee consists of nine members: the three executive officers and six members elected at large by delegates to the Representative Assembly. The executive officers and other members of the Executive Committee are ex officio members of the Board of Directors.
Prior to the NEA's founding, teachers had formed professional associations in 15 individual states, but there was no cohesive national association uniting them. That changed in 1857 when Thomas W. Valentine, president of the New York State Teachers Association, issued a nation-wide invitation to teachers to unite behind a common voice for America's growing public school system. The National Teachers Association (NTA) was born. Initial membership was close to 100.
Even though minority educators were able to join the Association from the start, women were barred from joining until 1866. Over the ensuing decades the Association became a leading voice in the national movement for women's rights. It elected its first female president, Ella Flagg Young, in 1910, a decade before Congress granted voting rights to women.
NTA became the National Education Association (NEA) in 1870 when it merged with the American Normal School Association, the National Association of School Superintendents, and the Central College Association.
In 1898, the NEA backed the English spelling reform movement and adopted a list of 12 reformed spellings to be used immediately. These were: though→tho, although→altho, thorough→thoro, thoroughfare→thorofare, through→thru, throughout→thruout, catalogue→catalog, decalogue→decalog, demagogue→demagog, pedagogue→pedagog, prologue→prolog, programme→program.
On its 100th birthday in 1957, NEA had over 700,000 members.
NEA merged officially with the American Teachers Association, the historically Black teachers association originally founded as the National Association of Teachers in Colored Schools (NATCS), in 1966. Mutual interests had fostered a close working relationship between the two organizations over several decades before that.
In 1926 the two organizations formed a Joint Committee of members of both organizations that was tasked with studying the lack of accreditation of Black high schools, which blocked Black students from acceptance in many colleges and universities. Eventually, the Committee garnered evaluation and accreditation for Black high schools. It also advocated for equal school funding, collected data on the status of Black education, and promoted fair treatment of Blacks in textbooks while pressuring publishers to do so.
Although racial segregation in public schools was still the norm, NEA advocated for change. In the 1940s, the Association had refused to hold Representative Assemblies in cities that discriminated against delegates based on race. It had also affiliated with 18 Black teacher's associations in states where Black teachers were prohibited from joining White organizations.
Finally, in 1966, after more than 20 years of collaboration, cooperation and planning, NEA and ATA agreed to a merger at the RA in Miami Beach, Fla.
In 1998, a tentative agreement to merge was reached between NEA and American Federation of Teachers negotiators, but ratification failed soundly in the NEA's Representative Assembly meeting in New Orleans in early July 1998. However, four NEA state affiliates have merged with their AFT counterparts. Mergers occurred in Florida (the Florida Education Association formed in 1998); Minnesota (Education Minnesota formed in 1998), Montana (MEA-MFT formed in 2000), and New York (New York State United Teachers formed in 2006).
Further, NEA and AFT continue to cooperate and work towards common goals through the "NEAFT Partnership." This Partnership leaves each organization free to differ and to conduct work separately and independently, but enables the two groups to collaborate at every level of each organization.
Before the 1960s, only a small portion of public school teachers were unionized. But that began to change when, in 1959, Wisconsin became the first state to pass a collective bargaining law for public employees. Over the next 20 years, most other states adopted similar laws. The passage of these laws had a significant impact on NEA, which began to serve members as a labor union, in addition to serving members as a professional association. Passage of these new labor laws, along with NEA's new role as a labor union, helped NEA membership grow from 766,000 in 1961  to roughly 3.2 million today.
In the 1960s, the NEA's demographics were changing. This was due to the merger with ATA and the decision to become a true labor union, among other factors. In 1967, the NEA elected its first Hispanic president Braulio Alonso. In 1968, NEA elected its first Black president, Elizabeth Duncan Koontz.
In 2006, the NEA and the AFL–CIO also announced that, for the first time, stand-alone NEA locals as well as those that had merged with the AFT would be allowed to join state and local labor federations affiliated with the AFL-CIO.
In 2007, at the 150th anniversary of its founding, NEA membership had grown to 3.2 million. However, five years later, USA Today reported that NEA had lost more than 100,000 members since 2010.
Most NEA funding comes from dues paid by its members ($295 million in dues from a $341 million total budget in 2005). Typically, local chapters negotiate a contract with automatic deduction of dues from members' paychecks. Part of the dues remain with the local affiliate (the district association), part will go to the state association, and part will move on to the national association. Although dues moves through the state and national associations, a large portion typically comes back to the local chapters through grants.
Federal law prohibits unions from using dues money or other assets to contribute to or otherwise assist federal candidates or political parties, in accordance with their tax-exempt status. The NEA Fund for Children and Public Education is a special fund for voluntary contributions from NEA members which can legally be used to assist candidates and political parties. Critics have repeatedly questioned the NEA's actual compliance with such laws, and a number of legal actions focusing on the union's use of money and union personnel in partisan contexts have ensued.
NEA has played a role in politics since its founding, as it has sought to influence state and federal laws that would have an impact on public education. Every political position adopted by NEA was brought by one of its members to the annual Representative Assembly, where it was considered on the floor, debated, and voted on by elected delegates.
The organization tracks legislation related to education and the teaching profession and encourages members to get involved in politics through a comprehensive Legislative Action Center on its website.
In recent decades the NEA has increased its visibility in party politics, endorsing more Democratic Party candidates and contributing funds and other assistance to political campaigns. The NEA asserts itself as "non-partisan", but critics point out that the NEA has endorsed and provided support for every Democratic Party presidential nominee from Jimmy Carter to Barack Obama and has never endorsed any Republican or third party candidate for the presidency. However, NEA has endorsed and supported Republican political candidates for Congressional and Gubernatorial offices. In 2006, NEA funded over 300 candidates, a list which included Democrats, Republicans and Independents, such as Mike Simpson, Richard Lugar, Olympia Snowe, Jim Gerlach, John M. McHugh and Bernard Sanders, among others.
Based on required filings with the federal government, it is estimated that between 1990 and 2002 eighty percent of the NEA's substantial political contributions went to Democratic Party candidates and ninety five percent of contributions went to Democrats in 2012.  Although this has been questioned as being out of balance with the more diverse political views of the broader membership, the NEA maintains that it bases support for candidates primarily on the organization's interpretation of candidates' support for public education and educators. Every Presidential candidate endorsed by NEA must be approved by majority vote among the members themselves at NEA's annual Representative Assembly.
Others benefitting from NEA funding, according to the most recent filings, include Jesse Jackson's Rainbow/PUSH Coalition, Center for American Progress, Media Matters for America, National Council of La Raza, the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, Amnesty International, the now-defunct ACORN, and AIDS Walk Washington.
The NEA is a leading member of the U.S. Global Leadership Coalition, a Washington D.C.-based coalition of over 400 major companies and NGOs that advocates for a larger International Affairs Budget, which funds American diplomatic and development efforts abroad.
Substantial criticism has been leveled against the NEA and other teachers unions for allegedly putting the interests of teachers ahead of students and for consistently opposing changes that critics claim would help students but harm union interests. The NEA has often opposed measures such as merit pay, school vouchers, weakening of teacher tenure, certain curricular changes, the No Child Left Behind Act, and many accountability reforms. In a 1999 interview, conservative commentator Pat Buchanan said that "ever since the judges have gotten heavily into education, and the National Education Association has gotten into control of that Department of Education, test scores go down, there’s violence in classroom, things are going wrong". David Frum has correlated the drop in student achievement since the 1960s with a simultaneous increase in teacher pay and recruitment of less-qualified teachers, beginning in the 1970s. Frum writes: "The inept and lazy gained a huge new increment of job security. Assignments would be distributed by seniority, rather than skill."
Apple Inc. CEO, Steve Jobs, has criticized the NEA and other teacher unions for its lack of support for voucher programs, merit pay, and the removal of bad teachers. On February 17, 2007 at an education reform conference in Texas, Jobs said, "What kind of person could you get to run a small business if you told them that when they came in they couldn’t get rid of people that they thought weren’t any good?”
With the recent scrutiny placed on teacher misconduct, regarding specifically sexual abuse, the NEA has been criticized for its failure to crack down on abusive teachers. From an AP investigation, former NEA President Reg Weaver commented, "Students must be protected from sexual predators and abuse, and teachers must be protected from false accusations." He then refused to be interviewed. The Associated Press reported that much of the resistance to report the problem comes from "where fellow teachers look away," and "School administrators make behind-the-scenes deals."
Also criticized is the NEA's alleged "goal of changing public opinion on homosexuality, starting with the youngest generation," according to a former chairman of the NEA Ex-Gay Educators Caucus. Some critics believe the NEA promotes a gay rights agenda, especially since the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals 2005 case Fields v. Palmdale School District. The court in that case ruled that parents' fundamental right to control the upbringing of their children "does not extend beyond the threshold of the school door,"( a line specifically stricken from the record, 447 F.3d 1187)and that a public school has the right to provide its students with "whatever information it wishes to provide, sexual or otherwise." NEA states that it does not “encourage schools to teach students to become gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgendered (GLBT),” but the Association does believe that schools should be safe for all students and advocates that schools should raise awareness of homophobia and intervene when GLBT students are harassed."
NEA has come under fire for taking advantage of laws in some states that compel, under certain conditions, membership in the association. In a case brought before the U.S. Supreme Court (Davenport v. Washington Education Association) on behalf of 4,000 Washington State teachers who are not NEA members but are nonetheless forced to pay NEA dues, the Court partially addressed the issue of collection and use of dues by unions such as the NEA.
A leading critic of NEA from the left is Dr Rich Gibson, whose article on the NEA-AFT merger convention in Cultural Logic outlines a critique of unionism itself.
The Association's Florida affiliate, FEA, has seen a number of scandals. In March 2001, a secretary in the Port Charlotte, Florida embezzled $66,000. In October of the same year, long-time Broward Teachers Union president Tony Gentile was arrested on child pornography charges. The local union paid him a golden parachute valued at $140,000. In February 2003, $40,000 was embezzled from the St. Lucie County Classroom Teachers Association. And in April 2003, the FBI and Miami police raided the headquarters of the United Teachers of Dade after receiving a tip that president Pat Tornillo had embezzled or misspent millions of dollars in union dues. Critics charge that the scandals are symbolic of deeper organizational biases and problems within NEA .
The NEA was criticized in August 2002 for the appearance of a lesson plan on the website, originally reported by the Washington Times, that encouraged teachers to remove all references to Muslim terrorists in lesson plans for September 11th Attacks. One of the lesson plans, compiled together under the title "Remember September 11" and appearing on NEA's Health Information Network Website (www.neahin.org)-- suggested that teachers discuss "historical instances of American intolerance" and cites the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II as an example. The American Federation of Teachers spokesperson commented on the plan saying, "[The AFT] disagrees with the lesson plans found on the NEA Website. The AFT does not support a blame-America approach in particular and wishes to distance itself from the entire document."  Critics cited the controversy as an example of a political agenda and indoctrination by the NEA until it was ultimately removed from the website.
On October 1, 2008 the Virginia NEA affiliate president Kitty Boitnott was accused of emailing teachers encouraging them to dress up on "Obama Blue Day" and "to sway John McCain supporters." Republicans criticized the move saying, "They should teach students how to think, not what to think." while Virginian Republicans criticized the attempt to sway students of voting age saying, "[schools] are a completely inappropriate place for teachers or education staff to be politicking on behalf of any candidate. Parents send their kids to school to get a bipartisan education." Boitnott later admitted the letter was inappropriate.