menu search recent posts

The National Education Association has just filed its 2011-2012 financial disclosure with the U.S. Department of Labor, and the numbers aren’t surprising. The nation’s largest teachers’ union spent $125 million last fiscal year on lobbying and contributions to like-minded groups, a 6 percent decline from the previous year. This number doesn’t include spending on so-called representational activities, which are often just as much geared toward political activity; the union spent $51 million on those efforts this past fiscal year, little change from 2010-2011.

Certainly the NEA has given a lot to progressive group that it and the American Federation of Teachers have co-opted. Among the beneficiaries of the union’s largesse: Progressive Majority, which was given $50,284 in 2011-2012, another $20,000 to Campaign for America’s Future, which bills itself as a social justice group (which is quite in line with what the NEA is trying to do as part of a new strategy to preserve its declining influence), and $135,000 to the old-school People for the American Way (which given both group’s opposition to expanding school choice through school vouchers, makes quite a lot of sense). The union also gave $100,000 to the notorious Media Matters for America, and $150,000 to Democracy Alliance. Attempting to make its mission of preserving traditional teacher compensation seem like social justice and social entrepreneurism, the NEA also managed to hand out $100,000 to Be the Change, an social entrepreneurial outfit whose board includes New Leaders for New Schools cofounder Jon Schnur and City Year co-founder Alan Khazei.

Attempting to weigh in on Republican primary campaigns in the Midwest (as well as play upon carpetbagging rhetoric and the typical railing against ‘special interests’), the NEA tossed $49,950 to the Kansas Values Institute, which unsuccessfully backed some moderate Republican candidates, including Joe Beveridge’s unsuccessful primary campaign against teacher and more-conservative state representative Greg Smith for an open state senate seat earlier this year. [Smith would go on to win the office earlier this month.] Apparently someone at the NEA was reading a copy of Thomas Franks’ treacly What’s the Matter with Kansas? The NEA also gave $25,000 in chicken wing money to the Republican Main Street Partnership, another moderate GOP outfit which has bland (and not very thoughtful) positions on education such as believing that “parents deserve accountability and qualified teachers in the classroom for their children”.

The NEA also made sure to fill the coffers of old-school black political outfits. This included $60,000 to the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation, $100,000 to Tavis Smiley’s eponymous media operations, $5,000 to former Clinton administration strategist Donna Brazile’s outfit, and $11,000 to the NAACP. Al Sharpton’s National Action Network (which supports expanding charter schools) also picked up a $25,000 check. The union also put $300,000 into the Schott Foundation for Public Education’s Opportunity to Learn effort, and reached into the world of black fraternities and sororities by giving $20,000 to the famed Qs in purple (known to the rest of us as Omega Psi Phi). The NEA also moved to play upon efforts to recognize the constitutional right of gays to civil marriage. It handed out $50,000 to Marylanders for Marriage Equality, which helped successfully advocate for the passage of the civil marriage plan contained in the state’s Question 6 ballot initiative, as well as gave $20,000 to the National Black Justice Coalition, which works on building support for marriage equity in the black community. The union also tossed $7,500 to the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Educational Network, one of the leading players in the gay rights movement. The Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute scored a $20,000 check from the union, while NALEO was given a measly $5,000. The National Hispana Leadership Institute received $25,000 in NEA money, and MALDEF received $10,000.

The lesson is clear for the school reform movement, whose philanthropies have long been reluctant to work more-closely with the key players within black and Latino communities: Put down some dollars; build some ties; and get to work. Just do it better than the NEA has for the past few years, which is why the union is rethinking its own strategy.

As for ballot initiatives? The NEA got plenty of bang for its buck when it handed off $1.042 million to Idahoans for Responsible Education; the group managed to successfully defeat at the polls a series of reforms passed last year by Gov. Butch Otter and Supt. Tom Luna. It also gave $135,000 to Keep It Local North Dakota, which successfully defeated Measure 2, a plan to abolish property tax collections (which, of course, fund districts and, ultimately, fill the coffers of the NEA’s affiliate there through its dues payments from teachers). And the NEA gave $4.6 million to We Are Ohio, the group that successfully defeated Gov. John Kasich’s effort to abolish collective bargaining. All in all, the NEA spent a lot of money for defensive victories.

How much did the usual suspects get this time around? The Economic Policy Institute picked up $250,000 this year, while the American Prospect (which shares the same cofounders as EPI) got $75,000. The National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education, which is charged with overseeing the quality of the nation’s university schools of education, got $202,646 from NEA coffers this year; the American Association of Colleges of Teacher Education, on the other hand, apparently didn’t get any love this year.

Meanwhile the NEA has spent money propping up some of the 11 state affiliates that are financially struggling. This includes the Indiana State Teachers Association, which has been insolvent for the past two years. The NEA lent the Indiana unit $3 million in 2011-2012; the Indiana unit now owes $16.4 million to the parent union. The NEA also provided $1.028 million in Uniserv and non-Uniserv payments to the affiliate; put $158,785 toward the affiliate’s member litigation costs; handed out $58,000 to the unit in the form of a legal advocacy grant, handled the affiliate’s electric bills to the tune of $156,386; and paid its $8,301 water bill. The NEA also subsidized the South Carolina affiliate still under its receivership, handing out $568,362 in Uniserv and non-Uniserv payments, and picking up $181,270 in member litigation costs. The NEA’s Michigan affiliate, which lost $12.2 million in 2011-2012, has gotten $4.1 million in Uniserv and non-Uniserv subsidies from the national parent, as well as benefited from the NEA picking up $1.2 million in member litigation costs, and received $1.1 million for its efforts to beat back Wolverine State Gov. Rick Snyder’s school reform efforts.

What about salaries: NEA President Dennis Van Roekel was paid $389,620 in 2011-2012, a 15 percent decline over the previous year, while number two Lily Eskelsen made $332,390 (an 11 percent pay cut from 2010-2011). Considering that the NEA has laid off staff and sent other employees into early retirement, it would look bad for its top two leaders to get pay increases. Only union treasurer Rebecca Pringle, who took a five percent pay cut in 2010-2011 got a raise; she was compensated to the tune of $332,539, a 2 percent increase over the previous fiscal year. Altogether, the NEA’s top three leaders were paid $1.1 million last year. Nothing wrong with that at all. But remind Van Roekel and his team about their dollars (and the very, umm, corporate ways the NEA and the AFT engage in their defense of traditionalist policies and thinking) whenever they try to use class warfare rhetoric in opposing systemic reform.

As for the NEA’s revenues? It generated $387 million in 2011-2012, a three percent decline over 2010-2011. The revenue stream included a $1.6 million loan from Bank of America, which the union repaid. [The union had borrowed $13 million from Bank of America in 2010-2011, which was repaid.] It earned $2 million from NEA Member Benefits, the controversial affiliate that peddles annuities and other financial instruments to its members, a 35 percent decrease over 2010-2011; NEA Member Benefits itself lost $503,473 in its 2010-2011 fiscal year. Membership declined by three percent, from 3.2 million in the rank-and-file to 3.1 million; part of the decline can be attributed to Wisconsin, where Gov. Scott Walker successfully ended the NEA’s Badger State affiliate’s state-granted power to force teachers to become members and pay into the union’s coffers as part of his abolition of collective bargaining.

Next week, Dropout Nation will provide further analysis of the NEA’s latest financial disclosure. You can also download and peruse the report for yourself.

UPDATE: Here’s DN‘s follow-up, as well as the earlier report on spending by three NEA affiliates.