Analysis

Union Report: ‘Community Allies,’ Control Over Locals, Charter School Reports & Impeachment — How Delegates Voted at NEA Convention

By Mike Antonucci | July 10, 2019

National Education Association offices in Washington, D.C. (Credit: AgnosticPreachersKid via Wikimedia Commons)

Mike Antonucci’s Union Report appears most Wednesdays; see the full archive.

The National Education Association held its annual Representative Assembly in Houston last week. Six thousand delegates, representing teachers and education support workers in every state, met to debate and vote on the national union’s budget and agenda for the 2019-20 school year. A number of their decisions will have a profound effect on the future direction of the organization.

The delegates approved opening membership to “community allies,” which the union defines as “persons interested in advancing the cause of public education.” Four previous attempts to add this membership category failed. Now, for the first time, people who do not work in education, or have even a remote connection to it, can join NEA. For an annual fee of $25, they will receive NEA communications and a few discounts but will be ineligible for office or participation in any aspect of union operations.

More crucial to NEA’s purpose, the union will be able to solicit political action committee contributions from these community allies.

Delegates also adopted procedures to allow NEA to establish direct trusteeships over local affiliates and to set restrictions on locals attempting to secede from the national union.

They rejected the idea of soliciting voluntary donations to the strike fund they created last year, and they voted down a Massachusetts Teachers Association-sponsored proposal to conduct a national teacher strike in support of the Green New Deal.

Delegates and the NEA board of directors submitted a record 161 new business items that call on the national union to take specific actions this year. Last year they submitted 128, of which 74 were approved and 19 were referred to committee. This year, the delegates again approved 74 and referred an additional 42 to committee.

Some of the approved actions provide insight into the delegates’ thinking, but I find the rejected items to be more informative:

APPROVED

New Business Item No. 14: NEA will create model legislative language that state affiliates can use to eliminate the Praxis or alternative standardized test used for teacher certification.

No. 38: NEA will develop a report on the negative effects of charter school co-locations on students, particularly students of color, students with disabilities and public school communities, and publish such reports in the NEA Today, on NEA social media and in all other forms of communication.

No. 52: The NEA Center for Organizing will expose in existing NEA publications the continued efforts by venture capitalists to privatize substitute teachers and education support professionals by subcontracting these positions through unrepresented “gig” workers, for example, from Swing Education Inc., EDUStaff LLC and Kelly Educational Staffing.

No. 111: The NEA will take the lead in urging a school calendar revision for the 2020 presidential election and will encourage the closure of schools on Election Day so that members, locals and districts can participate in a day of action when school will not be in session.

DEFEATED

No. 22: NEA would have supported a constitutional amendment requiring that the United States provide all students with “a sound basic education.”

No. 27: NEA would have set up a secure website for members to vote on which 2020 presidential candidate the union should endorse.

No. 35: NEA would have supported the impeachment of Donald Trump.

No. 54: NEA would have delayed deciding on a preferred primary presidential candidate until members had time to become educated through watching candidate debates and visiting the union’s Strong Public Schools website.

No. 59: NEA would have demanded that all candidates seeking endorsement publicly state their opposition to all charter school expansion.

No. 61: NEA would have initiated legal action when necessary against charter school managers and responsible agencies that have participated in acts of corruption, scams and fraud with public school money.

No. 123: NEA would have taken a formal stance against Pearson Education Inc. and its subsidiaries because of their connection to “the systematic unraveling of urban and rural school districts through their biased testing practices, questions and so-called full-service wraparound products like America’s Choice.”

Taken together, these suggest to me that NEA will sustain its current practices regarding charter schools, corporate opponents and President Trump. It seems the union is not eager to pick new fights or alter in any way its campaign endorsement procedures.

The union hosted 10 Democratic presidential candidates for a town hall forum during the convention, and all succeeded in generating applause lines and avoiding sore points.

NEA delegates are the most committed union activists, and it’s important to know what their priorities are. But as we learned about the outcomes from last year’s convention, what the delegates want and what they get are sometimes two different things.

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