The National Education Association hasn’t filed its 2011-2012 financials to the U.S. Department of Labor; that won’t happen till the end of this month. But one can still get some sense of how the nation’s largest teachers’ union doles out its cash by perusing the union’s 2010-2011 990 report to the Internal Revenue Service. And it offers some new insight on how it is doling out forced teacher dues to maintain its declining influence over education policy — as well as the financial issues that are plaguing the union now.
As with the American Federation of Teachers, the NEA is looking to co-opt black and Latino groups. It handed out $125,000 to talk show host Tavis Smiley’s eponymous foundation; and gave another $141,000 to the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation, whose CEO, Elsie Scott, also sits on the board of another NEA beneficiary, the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation. [Rev. Al Sharpton is also on NCBCP's board; his National Action Network picked up $60,000 from the union, more than the $40,000 reported by the NEA in its most-recent LM-2 filing.] The Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute only got $55,000 from the union.
The union’s work in co-opting progressive groups includes $25,000 to Netroots Nation, the annual conference of left-leaning outfits, and $25,000 to Democracy Alliance, which aims to “counter the well-funded and sophisticated conservative apparatus in the areas of civic engagement, leadership, media, and ideas”; oddly enough, one of Democracy Alliance’s board members is Nick Hanauer, the Pacific Coast Feather Co. heir and venture capitalist who sparred with Washington State’s Democrat leaders over their opposition to charter schools and other systemic reforms. The NEA also gave $200,000 to the conservative-sounding Patriot Majority, which has been running a “Stop the Greed” campaign featuring sweet-looking tour buses, and a “China Watch” effort that amps up the protectionist sloganeering up a notch.
As for the NEA’s more-political activities? It handed off $800,000 to Fair Districts Florida, which is aiming to weigh in on the Sunshine State’s congressional and state legislative redistricting activities; one can expect the NEA wants to ensure that it can get a state legislature in Florida more to its Sunshine State affiliate’s liking. The union also gave $200,000 to North Carolina Citizens for Protecting Our Schools, which has a snazzy site dedicated to beating back budget-cutting efforts. Looking to give a boost to Rethinking Schools, the traditionalist-oriented magazine that aims to compete with Education Next and Dropout Nation, the NEA gave the publication $23,500.
None of this, by the way, includes the $1.2 million the NEA poured into Idaho in the past few weeks to help defeat the series of reforms passed last year by Gov. Butch Otter and Supt. Tom Luna, or the $900,000 spent in Michigan to unsuccessfully push for Proposition 2, which would have enshrined forced collective bargaining between school districts (and other local governments) and public sector unions under the Wolverine State’s constitution. Those dollars are likely to be reflected in NEA’s 2012-2013 filing with federal labor officials a year from now.
Whether or not the NEA can continue spending at this rate — especially considering the lack of success that the influence-buying has had — is a different question. As Education Intelligence Agency’s Mike Antonucci reported this week, the NEA may be demanding that its beneficiaries do more for the dollars; this includes working with the union on more-visible grassroots activity. This, by the way, wouldn’t be much different from the union’s demands to education researchers it funds to play ball.
But it isn’t just the failure of its approach that is likely driving such demands. The NEA’s pension costs have increased by 22 percent between 2008-2009 and 2010-2011, even as revenues for the union have remained stagnant; the very defined-benefit pension deals that the NEA (along with the AFT) continue to defend are doing as much damage to its fiscal condition as they are to that of state governments and districts. Eleven of the union’s largest affiliates are financially struggling, dependent on dollars from the NEA’s national headquarters to stay afloat; this includes the NEA’s bellicose Michigan affiliate, which lost $11 million in 2010-2011, and has racked up $25 million in losses between 2008-2009 and 2010-2011 thanks in part to a 185 percent increase in pension costs, according to Dropout Nation‘s analysis of its IRS filings. The NEA already has taken direct control of busted affiliates in Indiana and South Carolina.
Like any, umm, business, the NEA has taken to cutting bodies from the payroll, with employee layoffs and longtime staffers forced into early retirement. Chances are that the union will continue to take such steps, especially given the likelihood of other states following the path of Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker to push for abolishing collective bargaining and ending forced dues payments by teachers regardless of whether they support the union or not into its coffers. The fact that in public sector union-strong California 44 percent of voters gave their support to Prop 32, which would have ended forced dues collections by the Golden State’s NEA and AFT affiliates if passed will likely give the NEA pause. Reform-minded governors in other states won’t have to worry so much about putting such plans before voter referenda.