2012 NEA Convention: Membership Declines & Hyper-Partisanship

We wanted to cross-post this piece from the Association of American Educator’s (AAE) blog. For those that are not familiar with the AAE, they are a non-partisan, non-union alternative to the National Education Association. It is our opinion that the AAE is the organization for education professionals. The AAE offers dues that are $15 a month, no donations to any political cause, and liability insurance that surpasses that provided by the NEA.

While most Americans were enjoying a festive Independence Day last week, the National Education Association was holding their annual conference in Washington, D.C. Beaten down after another solid year of negative press, declining membership, and legislative and legal battles, the NEA convention took on a somber and partisan tone in 2012.

The convention was meant to be a rallying cry for union members as the NEA tried to create an atmosphere resembling a political party convention complete with theme music and intense cheering. Despite best efforts, the conference was noticeably lacking delegates and talk immediately turned to harsh budget realities.

NEA Secretary-Treasurer Becky Pringle predicted an even more challenging time in the years ahead calling budget numbers “devastating.” Projected losses total 287,000 active teachers and 21,000 additional personnel over the 2010-14 school years. The numbers amount to a $65 million budget reduction over that same time period, undoubtedly leading to staff reductions and declining political power.

In light of the upcoming election and the union-crippling legislation in states across the country, the speeches at the convention were meant to rally the members in attendance to stay strong despite the obvious setbacks. One of the more partisan speeches came from NEA Executive Director John Stocks who called NEA members “Social Justice Patriots,” according to the union-watchdog Education Intelligence Agency. Stocks said union members’ roles should be to fight “opponents of the DREAM Act and voter ID laws, CEOs who make too much, and big corporations.”

The NEA’s most high-profile guest was Vice President Joe Biden, who was sent in place of President Obama. Vice President Biden mainly stuck to the union staples, including expressing support for their collective bargaining plight and accusing Governor Mitt Romney of not supporting public education. After some grumblings from delegates about his no-show status, President Obama did call in to thunderous applause stating, “The folks on the other side, they want to take us back to the policies that didn’t work in the last decade, they want us to go back to a policy that just does big tax cuts for the wealthiest, [to] cut education spending, cut investments in all the things that help us grow.”

Following the President’s call, NEA President Dennis Van Roekel promised that the union would put its full support behind the president’s re-election: “We believe in you, Mr. President, and we’re behind you all the way.”

Despite the mass applause for candidates and partisan speakers, news broke that Republican and independent teachers among the delegation were expressing frustration with the hyper-partisan tone of the convention. In interviews with The Associated Press, dozens of teachers said they felt pressure from union leaders to support Obama’s re-election — and felt marginalized when they wouldn’t. Some teachers said they were so worried about retribution from their colleagues that they wouldn’t provide their names for publication in newspapers.

Delegate teacher Maureen van Wagner expressed her concern to the media. “What I don’t like is the harassment going on for people to be an ‘EFO’ — an educator for Obama.” Other teachers were offended that NEA leaders had been urging members to hold house parties to educate their friends about why President Obama deserves a second term.

In conjunction with their commitment to another Obama endorsement, the NEA approved a series of controversial measures. Among their many policy recommendations, NEA delegates considered resolutions opposing any policy of U.S. military action against Iran, an initiative to gather information on groups that “discourage NEA membership,” and a failed effort to recommend the ousting of reform-minded Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.

Information from the convention continues to surface following an eventful week. Be sure to read the AAE blog this week for the latest developments. As NEA Vice President Lily Eskelsen stated, “Times have been bad before, but they’ve never been this bad.”

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