So what, exactly, is the NEA? It is “a weird institutional mutant,” wrote investigative reporter Peter Brimelow in his book The Worm in the Apple: How the Teacher Unions Are Destroying American Education (New York: HarperCollins, 2003), “part labor union, part insurance conglomerate (of all things), and part self-perpetuating staff oligarchy. And part political party….”
With 2.7 million dues-paying members, the NEA brings in at least $300 million a year to the national union and perhaps $1.25 billion each year through its state and local unions. Its staff members earn, on average, more than $130,000 each year, and its top bosses make much, much more. (Exactly how much goes into each NEA pocket it keeps secret.)
Compare this to the average teacher, who earns what? $25,000? $35,000? $45,000 per year? But government now spends an average of $7,000 per public school student. (Close to $12,000 per student in Washington, D.C.) Multiply that by 30 for one teacher classroom and we get $210,000. Public schools pay no property tax and relatively little for textbooks, lights and janitors – so where does the other $165,000 per classroom go? And why as we spend more and more do student test scores, literacy and other modern survival skills sink lower and lower? If public education were a private company, it would have gone bankrupt long ago and been replaced by something far better. Maybe that is why the NEA wants to banish competition and test scorekeeping from its political playground. These are precisely the kinds of questions that the NEA fears and works to stifle.
And this is by some accounts why the NEA expends up to one-third of its enormous income every year on politics.
The NEA has a permanent staff of at least 1,800 United Service (UniServ) employees who function as political operatives. This means that NEA on a continuous basis has more full-time paid professional political shock troops than the Republican and Democratic Parties combined. As Brimelow notes, these troops are trained at radical boot camps, paid and typically given graduate school credit for attending. One NEA handbook is titled “Alinsky for Teacher Organizers” and teaches activists how to use the confrontation, conflict and pressure tactics of radical leftist Saul Alinsky to win.
It is also among the biggest financial and personnel contributors to Democratic candidates, and as Mark Levin of the Landmark Legal Foundation documented NEA has coordinated its political expenditures and activities with the Democratic Party.
How powerful is the NEA? After President Jimmy Carter, to thank the union for electing him President in 1976, created the Department of Education, one NEA executive boasted that this was the only union in the country with its own cabinet department. At recent Democratic National Conventions, up to a quarter of the delegates are members of teachers unions. When the NEA talks, the Democratic Party listens.
The NEA has spent many, many millions to attack and defeat school voucher initiatives around the country. The reason is clear. If the Great Wall of Monopoly around socialist public schools is opened so that poor and middle-class parents can in effect get their tax money back, millions of parents will move their children to private schools.
Helping the NEA wage a propaganda and political war against vouchers and parental choice have been several leftwing groups, including People for the American Way (PAW), its tax-exempt PFAW Foundation, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), and the NAACP and its tax-exempt foundations. Their main targets as well as allies are Democratic lawmakers. Their victims are African-American parents, who polls consistently show are heavily in favor of school vouchers. The NAACP’s response is to offer a 40 page “Plan of Action” for education on its website that calls for lots more government money for public schools, quotes the NEA, but never mentions vouchers or school choice for black parents.
Evidence that school vouchers are supported by most African-American mothers and fathers is largely suppressed by the left-dominated national media and by so-called “civil rights” leftwing groups. A Joint Center survey found that among blacks 26-35 years of age, more than 70 percent support vouchers and school choice, and Hispanic-Americans aged 18-25 do, too, by more than a two-to-one margin.
But when the head of Colorado’s NAACP Willie Breazell in 1999 announced his support for school vouchers to help poor kids “trapped in our very worst schools,” the national NAACP promptly purged him.
“I was kind of lynched, so to speak,” he told the Wall Street Journal. “If you don’t have the group-think mentality you won’t last.” That Politically-Correct group-think is the conformist party line of the left, which liquidates dissenters who try to put the well-being of kids first, and not coincidentally it is the line taught to our children by the NEA.
This June, after years of struggle for emancipation, the black children of Colorado were locked back in chains as Democrat appointees to the Colorado Supreme Court voted 4-3 to overturn the state’s new voucher law as unconstitutional on the grounds that it stripped local school boards of control over education.
For lawyers of the NEA’s Colorado Educational Association, it must have been hard to keep a straight face while making this ridiculous argument. The NEA nowadays uses its political money and muscle to buy politicians on city councils and school boards so that at contract time it controls both sides of the bargaining table. The Colorado legislature will pass a new voucher law. Such programs, as Jon Sarche of Associated Press has reported, “have withstood legal challenges in Cleveland and Milwaukee. Washington, D.C., is scheduled to begin using vouchers this fall, and Florida’s program is operating while a state appeals court considers a challenge.” Like emancipation from slavery, this is an idea so morally and humanly right that its eventual victory is inevitable. But how much longer must our children be slaves of an unethically-imposed Democrat socialist school system and socialist teacher unions?
“Those of us who have long dismissed the National Education Association as a tool of the Democratic Party have been badly mistaken,” wrote columnist William McGurn in 2001 in the Wall Street Journal. “Apparently it’s just the opposite. As documents now sealed under a judge’s order indicate, it’s the Democratic Party that is the tool of the NEA.”