As Dropout Nation noted last week, the National Education Association spent plenty on defensive victories against school reform efforts in Utah and other states. At the same time, as the union’s 2011-2012 filing with the U.S. Department of Labor shows, it also spent plenty on advocating for initiatives that benefit the costly traditional teacher compensation deals its affiliates have struck with states and districts. The nation’s largest teachers’ union poured $5 million into its California affiliate’s political action committee. This, in turn, supported the Golden State unit’s successful effort to pass Prop. 30, which increased sales and income taxes on high-income earners by $50 billion (all geared toward propping up failing policies and practices), as well as defeating Prop. 32, which would have ended forced dues payments by teachers into the coffers of the NEA and American Federation of Teachers. One can say that was $5 million well spent.
The NEA also tossed $4.5 million into its own super-PAC. But it didn’t seem to do very much on the federal level, only spending $1.5 million on federal campaigns, according to OpenSecrets.org, two-thirds of it going to support Massachusetts Congressman John Tierney’s tough re-election victory against Republican rival Richard Tisei. But the PAC was active on the national level. According to the super-PAC’s October filing with the Federal Trade Commission; it handed over $500,000 to Moving Ohio Forward; spent $290,000 to help defeat New Hampshire gubernatorial campaign Ovide LaMontagne in his campaign against eventual winner Maggie Hassan; and poured $220,000 into WIN Minnesota Political Action Fund, which helped the state’s Democratic Party regain control of the legislature.
The NEA’s super-PAC spent plenty in Arizona. It put $266,000 into Revive Arizona Now, which, in turn, contributed to another group, the Arizona Accountability Project, in an effort to defeat a number of Republican state legislative candidates. It also tossed $20,001 into Great Schools Now, another Arizona political action outfit. It also spent plenty in Washington State supporting anti-reform Governor-Elect Jay Inslee’s bid against the reform-minded Rob McKenna, pouring $500,000 into Our Washington, a political action group that ran ads against McKenna. The NEA super-PAC even poured dollars into Florida. It poured $266,576 into Tomorrow’s Vision of Florida (misnamed Tomorrow’s Vision for Florida on the super-PAC’s FEC filing), which backed Sunshine State legislator Dwight Bullard’s successful campaign for the senate seat his mother and father held against Ron Saunders (who had backed one of Gov. Rick Scott’s school reform efforts); Politifact noted that one of the group’s mailers against Saunders didn’t meet the truth test. It also poured $70,251 into Taxpayers 4 Integrity in Government, a 527 group which is tied with Florida Democrat State Rep. Joseph Abruzzo and political player Todd Wilder.
The lesson for reformers is clear: They will have to focus more energy on the state level, especially in building grassroots activism and rallying families (including the 51 million single-parent households, grandparents caring for their grandchildren, and immigrant families) to their side. Reformers will also have to keep an eye on the NEA’s efforts to co-opt social justice groups in order to defend traditionalist policies and practices that harm children. Reformers should, for example, take their own meetings with such groups (as well as civil right outfits) in order to develop their messages the same way the NEA is doing so now.
As Dropout Nation has reported, the NEA and its affiliates face challenges with its own define-benefit pensions and other retiree costs. This was clear in its latest disclosure. The union paid out $61 million in staff benefit costs in 2011-2012, a 5.4 percent increase over 2010-2011. The union also owed $14 million in deferred compensation to its retired staffers, a 7 percent increase over the previous fiscal year. These costs are among the reasons why the nation’s largest teachers’ union laid off staffers and sent others into early retirement this year.
Even with those moves, the NEA still pays its employees very well. Four hundred thirty-seven staffers were paid six-figure sums in 2011-2012, the same number as the previous fiscal year. This included NEA Executive Director John Stocks, who was paid $379,260, a 39 percent increase over 2010-2011; and Alice O’Brien, the union’s general counsel, whose $228,719 in compensation was slightly lower than the $236,327 she earned the previous year. The union’s membership czar, Bill Thompson, took a 9 percent pay cut, earning $215,719 in 2011-2012; while Marcus Egan, who helped successfully lobby for the $10 billion Edujobs bailout two years ago, picked up $134,576, a 9 percent increase. Some of the names currently on the list are no longer employed by the union, so one can expect that the number of staffers earning $100,000 or more will decline slightly.