Analysis: New Numbers Show the Financial Impact of #RedforEd Protests, Janus Court Ruling on the National Education Association

National Education Association headquarters in Washington, D.C. (Wikimedia Commons)

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The spring and early summer of 2018 produced watershed events in the world of public education and teachers unions. A number of states saw #RedforEd protests and walkouts, which many observers were certain would spark a revitalization of teachers unions and the labor movement in general.

Then, in June, the U.S. Supreme Court handed down the Janus ruling, which eliminated agency fees charged to nonmembers by public-sector unions. Union opponents and supporters alike were now certain the ruling would lead to the demise of teachers unions and the labor movement in general. In her dissenting opinion, Justice Elena Kagan stated, “The court today wreaks havoc on entrenched legislative and contractual arrangements.”

When it came to money, at least, all that sound and fury signified nothing.

The combined annual incomes of the National Education Association and its state affiliates as of Aug. 31, 2019, was $1,663,883,934. That was an increase of $45,727 from the previous year, or 0.003 percent.

That’s not to say there was no effect whatsoever. Thirty-one state affiliates lost members that year, and 24 saw a reduction in revenues. But there is no consistent correlation between membership levels or revenues and states where there were either #RedforEd protests or agency fee laws.

All the financial information comes from the unions’ annual disclosure reports for the Internal Revenue Service detailing their income and expenditures. These are public records, but the pandemic created a long delay before the IRS made many of them available.

NEA national headquarters alone took in more than $377 million, which was 1.7 percent less than the previous year. The #RedforEd states of Arizona and Kentucky saw membership increase but revenues fall. Oklahoma lost members but gained revenue. West Virginia saw both decline.

Former agency-fee states had similar mixed results. Only five of them saw both membership and revenues drop.

Of course, virtually all NEA affiliates raise their dues each year, so it requires a significant loss of members, subsidies or investment income to cause an overall decline in annual revenues.

More than one-third of the national dues money NEA collects is disbursed to its affiliates in the form of subsidies or grants. State affiliates that struggle to attract members are more reliant on these grants. Ten affiliates received more than 20 percent of their income from NEA. Two of these (Louisiana and Mississippi) received more than 31 percent.

Most NEA and state affiliate employees are represented by staff unions. These unions negotiate top-flight salaries and benefits, sometimes threatening to strike. More than 2,100 NEA and state affiliate employees earned in excess of $100,000 in 2018-19. Well over half of the staffers at NEA headquarters in Washington, D.C., earn six-figure salaries.

With all this cash rolling in, one would think every state affiliate would be solidly in the black, and most are. But nine have a negative net worth; that is, the sum total of their liabilities exceeds the value of their assets.

The worst of these is New York State United Teachers, with net assets totaling almost negative $469 million.

We might expect that the COVID epidemic would lead to membership and revenue losses for NEA and its affiliates, but these results suggest that major external events might not have the effect we think. We already know that NEA lost working members in the 2019-20 school year, but the decline was limited to 2,553 public school employees.

We also know that the unprecedented flow of federal money into the nation’s school districts will lead to a surge in hiring. But increased school staffing in 2020 didn’t lead to an increase in NEA membership, so will that trend hold or not?

The logical inference to draw is that teachers union membership does not fluctuate wildly in either direction in accordance with external events, no matter how earthshaking they may be. If you’re hoping either for a great resurgence or an utter collapse, you’ll have a long wait.

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