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November 29, 2014 standard

This hasn’t been a great year for the American Federation of Teachers — and this goes double for its Empire State affiliate. Over the past year, the New York State United Teachers has been through a power struggle between the faction led by now-former President Richard Iannuzzi and a coalition that included United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew; has seen its influence decline even further as Republicans regained control of the state senate in spite of its efforts; and was told in no uncertain terms by Gov. Andrew Cuomo after winning re-election (in spite of it snubbing him) that the union would have to bow to the governor’s school reform agenda.

But as the AFT affiliate’s 2013-2014 filing with the U.S. Department of Labor shows, it faces an even more-precarious financial future, especially as it struggles with unfunded pensions and retiree healthcare benefits.

NYSUT reports that it has accrued $380 million in retirement liabilities in 2013-2014, a 25 percent increase over levels in the previous fiscal year. This includes $238 million in pension liabilities, (26 percent increase within the last year), and $117 million in retiree health liabilities (a 28 percent increase over 2012-2013). This is an 84 percent increase over the $214 million in retirement liabilities on the AFT affiliate’s books in 2009-2010. The higher liabilities explain why it spent $42 million on employee benefits this past fiscal year, almost double the $42 million spent five years earlier. With just $107 million in assets, and owing $313 million more than it can cover, NYSUT is virtually insolvent.

The good news for NYSUT is that it added 15,340 members in 2013-2014, a 2.6 percent increase. But the news isn’t as good as it may seem. The AFT unit only added 1,000 new members among classroom teachers (from 387,476 to 378,476). Most of the growth came from the addition of 12,608 members in so-called special constituency groups; just 55 such members were on the rolls a year earlier. That these members likely pay less in dues than teachers can be seen in the fact that NYSUT’s revenue increased by a mere 2.1 percent to $241 million last fiscal year. As for the bottom line? NYSUT generated a $3.8 million surplus, the second consecutive year it has brought in more than it spent. This can be attributed to a 5.2 percent decline in general overhead and a slight reduction in union administration costs.

But as Dropout Nation noted last year, NYSUT cannot survive on its own without the help of AFT and the National Education Association (to which the union is also affiliated). AFT subsidized NYSUT to the tune of $12.1 million in 2013-2014, unchanged from the previous year, while NEA provided $1.9 million in subsidies, a slight increase from the $1.8 million given in the previous year. Particularly for AFT and its president, Rhonda (Randi) Weingarten, propping up the unit is critical to keeping New York under its sphere of influence. The New York State AFT also earned $6.3 million from its Member Benefits affiliate, which like the one operated by AFT, peddles annuities and insurance plans to its members, an 18 percent decrease over previous year. The union’s Teaching & Learning Trust, another revenue contributor, brought in $3 million, a 52 percent increase over 2012-2013.

NYSUT second-in-command Andy Pallotta got a sweet payday for his successful effort with UFT President Michael Mulgrew to oust longtime union boss Richard Iannuzzi

The subsidies, along with the compulsory dues, allowed NYSUT to devote $96 million (including almost always-political representational activities) in 2013-2014, a one percent increase over the previous year. Among usual suspects, it gave $150,000 to Alliance for Quality Education, who, along with New York Communities for Change, put together a Web site, Twitter feed, and 10-page report (if you can call it that) targeting former CNN anchor-turned-school reformer Campbell Brown; New York Communities got $25,000 from the union, and the New York State Labor-Religion Coalition received $59,769. Education Law Center also received $50,000 from NYSUT, while New Yorkers for Fiscal Fairness received $60,000. The union also kicked up $455,217 to AFT national’s Northeast Region Organizing Project; and subsidized UFT to the tune of $14.2 million, a two percent decrease over 2012-2013.

NYSUT gave $200,000 to Citizen Action of New York’s Public Policy and Education Fund; $60,000 to New Yorkers for Fiscal Fairness; $30,000 to VOICE-Buffalo, which is convening a task force on education in the Upstate New York city; and $20,000 to People for New York – Progressive Agenda. The union gave $259,150 to Strong Economy for All Coalition, a cadre of public-sector unions and progressive outfits whose members include Citizen Action, AQE, and New York Communities; it also dropped $100,000 into the coffers of Working America, the Washington, D.C.-based labor advocacy outfit controlled by AFL-CIO.

The union’s single-biggest single political spend was on its VOTE COPE political action committee, which received $781,980 from its coffers; the PAC itself spent $4 million during this past election cycle to back Democrat candidates for state senate seats and take sole control of the Empire State’s upper house. This included mailers that attempted to the state Republican Party’s opposition to abortion to promoting domestic violence against women. That mailer ended up arousing the ire of Senate Republicans such as Mark Grisanti, who is championing a bill that would create voucher-like tax credits to expand school choice.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Republicans in the Empire State’s senate are ready to give NYSUT a few lessons in payback.

As a result of that blunder, along with the failure of NYSUT (as well as New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio) to help Democrats take control of the state senate, the union’s political spending turned out to be a waste of money. Sure, the AFT affiliate did manage to convince the legislature to pass a bill delaying the use of test score growth data from Common Core-aligned tests. But the Empire State is still proceeding with its implementation of the standards, which NYSUT now opposes, and has no allies among either AFT national or UFT (whose president, Mulgrew, has threatened to punch out those who oppose them). And now, with both Cuomo and Senate Republicans ready to settle scores — and Education Commissioner John King more-powerful than ever despite a vote of no-confidence by the union earlier this year — NYSUT is even weaker than ever.

This isn’t to say that NYSUT won’t have considerable influence in Albany. After all, the state assembly remains in Democrat control, and its speaker, Sheldon Silver, will oppose anything other than the most-modest reform efforts. But the governor wields plenty of power as do King and the state Board of Regents; so NYSUT has embraced tactics that have alienated itself at a most-critical juncture. More importantly, it is clear that the dollars that the union could have used to elevate teaching by providing high-quality professional development services members desire (as well as by advocating for teacher quality reforms that help high-quality teachers) have now been spent into oblivion.

But at least NYSUT’s current and former leaders can say they continue to pay themselves well on the dime of teachers forced to pay into its coffers. Former NYSUT President Richard Iannuzzi  collected $291,124 in 2013-2014, a 5.7 percent decline from the previous year, while Karen Magee (who was essentially made Iannuzzi’s replacement by Mulgrew) was paid $140,363, quadruple the $36,757 she earned the previous year as a board member. Executive Director Thomas Anapolis was paid $223,242, a 9.2 percent increase over last year; while Andrew Pallotta, the NYSUT executive vice president (and UFT representative) who instigated the coup against Iannuzzi, collected $245,429, a slight bump up from the $243,305 he was paid in 2012-2013.

You can check out the data yourself by perusing the HTML version of the New York State AFT’s latest financial report, or by visiting the Department of Labor’s Web site.

November 28, 2014 standard

As Dropout Nation detailed on Monday in its initial analysis of the National Education Association’s 2013-2014 financial disclosure to the U.S. Department of Labor, grants and donations to supposedly like-minded groups made up a large portion of the $132 million the union spent to preserve its influence. But the nation’s largest teachers’ union also spent plenty on organizing and other activities geared toward opposing systemic reform.

One state where NEA worked hard to oppose reform was Wisconsin, where it teamed up with the American Federation of Teachers to oppose Gov. Scott Walker’s re-election campaign. Since Walker successfully passed Act 10, which abolished collective bargaining and ended the ability of public-sector unions to force workers to pay dues into their coffers, the NEA’s Badger State affiliate has lost one-third of its members over the past three years. Ousting Walker, along with helping Democrats gain control of the state legislature, would have helped the union regain lost ground and revenue. NEA subsidized the Wisconsin Education Association Council to the tune of $2.3 million in 2013-2014; this helped the affiliate undertake an aggressive ground campaign that included providing absentee ballot request forms to 15,000 potential voters, as well as mailed out 40,000 flyers. The union also contributed $125,000 to Wisconsin Jobs Now, an outfit launched at the behest of the Service Employees International Union’s healthcare affiliate in the state which has attracted controversy or stretching and violating campaign laws in word and deed; it also paid $10,509 to Constance Hutchison, a former state secretary of higher education.

None of the spending mattered. As Dropout Nation reported earlier this month, Walker easily won re-election against Mary Burke, the Democratic standard-bearer (and NEA favorite) for the state’s top job, while the legislature remains in Republican control.

Meanwhile NEA spent plenty in North Carolina, where state legislators passed legislation eliminating near-lifetime employment for teachers as well as launching a school voucher initiative. The fears that Republicans in control of both the governor’s office and the state legislature would go further to advance some aspects of systemic reform (even as they halted implementation of Common Core reading and math standards) is one reason why the union’s Super-PAC spent $3 million to back the unsuccessful re-election campaign of U.S Sen. Kay Hagen over state house Speaker Thom Tillis, an architect of those efforts. The union subsidized its North Carolina affiliate to the tune of $1.1 million, as well as contributing $77,000 to North Carolina Citizens for Protecting Our Schools, which spent money on a number of state house races. NEA also subsidized other efforts in the Tar Heel State. This included paying $44,964 to Patterson Harkavy to help the union overturn the elimination of tenure; spending $20,625 on the services of Stephanie Bass, a former communications director for progressive group Blueprint NC, for communications work on the ground; and paying $7,500 to Dewey Square Group for advocacy efforts. As in Wisconsin, the NEA’s spending in North Carolina yielded no good results.

While the NEA’s spending on backing politicians didn’t work out so well, it yielded some better results in backing ballot initiatives.

On one hand, the union contributed $2 million to Colorado Commits to Kids, which unsuccessfully advocated for the passage of Amendment 66 in 2013, which would have increased the state’s income taxes from 4.63 percent to as much as 5.9 percent for citizens earning more than $75,000 a year. Ballotpedia notes that NEA (including its Colorado affiliate) was the single-biggest donor to the group based on numbers it had obtained earlier this year. The defeat of Amendment 66 was one of several major defeats for the union in the Rocky Mountain State over the past two years that includes the successful passage of Prop. 104 (which requires collective bargaining negotiations to be open to the public) and incumbent U.S. Sen. Mark Udall’s defeat at the hand of Congressman Cory Gardner.

On the other hand, the union contributed $473,000 to Class Size Counts, a Washington State-based outfit which successfully backed Initiative 1351, which would restrict class sizes to no more than 25 kids in elementary and secondary schools; Ballotpedia estimates that NEA (including its affiliate and Super-PAC) contributed $2.8 million to the group, making it the single-biggest backer of the effort. Because the initiative requires the hiring of more teachers, the union and its Evergreen State affiliate will benefit greatly, both financially and otherwise, from its passage. The effort was also backed by SEIU, which likely backed I-1351 as a Trojan Horse for its own aims — and not exactly to help the NEA expand its ranks; this is because the wording of the initiative allows any district to use the additional state dollars to hire custodians and other classified employees represented by the union.

Then there is Missouri, where NEA spending yielded mixed results. The union gave $500,000 to Committee in Support of Public Educators, an arm of the union’s Show-Me State unit which successfully defeated the teacher evaluation reform measure contained in Amendment 3; the union and its state affiliate spent an additional $1 million to oppose the measure, according to Ballotpedia. NEA also gave $25,000 to the Missouri Early Voting Fund, which unsuccessfully backed an effort to put on the ballot an initiative that would have allowed earlier voting running up to Election Day. All in all, NEA won an important defensive victory, but didn’t gain much for its allies among progressives most-supportive of increasing voter turnout.

The NEA also gave $38,784 to its Hawaii affiliate to successfully defeat Amendment 4, which would have allowed early childhood education subsidies to go to privately-operated preschools. The union also provided $500,000 to its joint affiliate with the AFT, MEA-MFT, to successfully defeat LR-126, which would have moved back late voter registration from Election Day to the Friday before; this worked out far better for both NEA and AFT than their affiliate’s endorsements and financial backing of both U.S. Sen. John Walsh (who was forced out of his campaign to win a full term after the New York Times revealed in July that he plagiarized a master’s thesis he submitted to the U.S. Army War College) and his NEA- and AFT-backed replacement as Democratic standard-bearer, State Rep. Amanda Curtis (whose antics immediately disqualified her from higher office).

Then there’s Nevada, where NEA gave $100,000 to the Education Initiative Political Action Committee, which aimed to pass Question 3, a measure that would have forced businesses generating more than $1 million in revenue (including casino operators) to pay a two percent margin tax that would have been spent on traditional districts to the benefit of the union’s state unit. NEA was by far the biggest backer of the effort, with it and its affiliate spending $1.6 million on it altogether. Question 3 was widely opposed by business groups, and was ultimately crippled by a move by the AFL-CIO’s Nevada affiliate to abandon its initial support for the measure. The measure was soundly defeated on Election Day.

As you would expect, NEA’s political activities aren’t limited to contributions and subsidies to its affiliates. The union paid $150,000 to the Ballot Initiative Strategy Center for help on its efforts; spent $10,000 with pollster Celinda Lake’s eponymous firm; paid $144,700 to pollster GBA Strategies (which was active in California political races); and $118,826 with JBL Associates. It also paid $72,000 to S&B Public Solutions (which does business as Hilltop Public Solutions); $25,356 to mobile campaigning outfit Revolution Messaging; $105,000 with New Media Firm (whose boss, Will Robinson, helped the NEA and other public sector unions defeat Ohio Gov. John Kasich’s effort to abolish collective bargaining); $10,046 with the firm run by Democrat operative Donna Brazile (who is now co-chairing the AFT-backed Democrats for Public Education); and $20,000 to advertise on Bill Press’ radio show.

Dropout Nation also noticed some additional spending tied to the secretive Democracy Alliance’s network of outfits. This includes $50,000 to the Atlas Project, which gathers voter data for use in grassroots advocacy; and $100,000 to Sixteen Thirty Fund, which has, in turn, financed Democracy Alliance’s Latino Engagement Action Fund. Spreading its wings outside the Beltway, NEA spent $59,200 with Two Peninsulas Research Group, which helped the union and its Michigan affiliate in its unsuccessful effort to defeat Gov. Rick Snyder’s re-election campaign; and $25,000 with Battleground Research in Ohio for its efforts against Kasich and other foes of the union’s traditionalist thinking. None of this spending has been helpful, either for NEA’s political influence or for teachers (especially younger members) who want a focus on elevating the teaching profession.

The fall in NEA’s political position has been matched by its financial decline. The union generated $385 million in 2013-2014, a slight decline over the previous fiscal year, thanks in part to a 1.2 percent decline in members and agency fee payers (from 3.1 million to 3.05 million). Excluding the agency fee payers, NEA’s membership has fallen from just three million to 2.96 million thanks to retirements and other losses. This explains why NEA spent $90,000 on services from Arlington, Va., membership consultant Decision Demographics. The union continued to generate less money from NEA Member Benefits, the controversial affiliate that peddles annuities and other financial instruments to its members; it collected $1.4 million from the unit, a 19 percent decline from income received in 2012-2013. [ NEA Member Benefits did manage to earn a surplus of $8.3 million for 2012-2013, according to its filing with the Internal Revenue Service, nearly double its $4.5 million profit a year earlier.]

The revenue and membership declines, along with NEA’s high spending ways, led to the union generating a $33 million surplus, a 25 percent decline over the previous year. Sure, NEA’s payroll barely budged within the past year (still spending $67 million on employee salaries), and its benefits costs declined by seven percent (to $61 million). But all that was offset by a 15 percent increase in union administration costs.

You can check out the data yourself by checking out the HTML and PDF versions of the NEA’s latest financial report, or by visiting the Department of Labor’s Web site.

November 26, 2014 standard

Your editor is finishing up another report on the National Education Association’s spending during its last fiscal year. But that can wait for a moment. Now is the time to have a conversation about the silence of far too many school reformers — and the thoughtless words of one in particular — about the aftermath of Monday’s decision by a St. Louis County grand jury to not indict Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson for the slaying of Michael Brown.

As you already know, Dropout Nation ran a piece yesterday on how reformers can use the aftermath of Ferguson as an opportunity to address the overuse of harsh school discipline on our children, especially our young black men. This weekend, there will also be a podcast on how reformers and grassroots communities must come together to take on the challenges wrought by decades of systemic failure of American public education within poor and minority communities. Simply put, this publication is undertaking its mission, one to which all school reformers should be committed at all times and all moments: Building brighter futures for all children. Challenging systems that harm the futures of all of our sons, daughters, nephews, nieces, and cousins. Stand along with communities to bend the arc of history toward economic and social progress. And create cultures of genius in which all of our kids are provided the high-quality education they need and deserve.

If you read Dropout Nation on a daily basis, you know this already. But in case you don’t, this isn’t the first time we tackled Ferguson. Back in August and September, after Wilson’s callous slaying of Brown led to months of protests in and out of Missouri, this publication ran pieces on how the Ferguson-Florissant School District exemplified the failed policies and practices endemic in American public education. This included focusing on how the district failed to provide all kids with college-preparatory curricula, a Dropout Nation Podcast on how we must use the events in Ferguson to save young black men from the economic and social abyss, and a report on how Ferguson-Florissant was doing worse on behalf of black children than the notoriously-woeful St. Louis district nearby. Connecticut Parents Union President Gwen Samuel, a Contributing Editor to this publication, even documented her own son’s targeting by law enforcement in her hometown.

So if this humble magazine can sharply tackle the educational and social issues that are contributing factors to what happened that fateful day three months ago, why can’t reformers — especially those in the Beltway — do the same? More importantly, how can the school reform movement talk about addressing equity in public education while remaining silent about Ferguson? Why is it that Thomas B. Fordham Institute President Michael Petrilli tweeting about a radio broadcast on a report the think tank has written instead of discussing what reformers can do to address the role districts play in festering suburban poverty? [Update: Fordham finally put up a podcast in which they discuss Ferguson.] How come reform outfits such as 50 CAN and the Foundation for Excellence in Education, along with school choice advocates such as Jay P. Greene and the Milton and Rose D. Friedman Foundation have issued no statement rallying reformers to expand high-quality options so that poor and minority families in Ferguson and elsewhere can escape failing traditional district schools? Why is it that only Teach For America, along with a few reformers such as Students for Education Reform cofounder Catharine Bellinger,and Teached Director Kelly Amis, as well as African-Americans in the movement, have behaved admirably by calling Brown’s slaying the tragedy and rallying call for systemic reform of education and criminal justice that it is?

Certainly there are so-called reformers who don’t think that Ferguson is a matter about which they should be concerned. This was already expressed by American Enterprise Institute education czar Rick Hess in his response to criticism from Shree Chauahan that Ferguson was “not his beat”. They also likely share Hess’ misguided and misinformed perspective that Wilson was found “innocent” by the grand jury, and ignore a few inconvenient facts, such as the reality that Missouri’s state law and U.S. Supreme Court rulings granting wide leeway to law enforcement in the event of officer-involved shootings makes often make it impossible to indict police officers for brutality and murder; Wilson wasn’t found not guilty of a crime, just wasn’t indicted, which given that 83 percent of 98 homicides by officers led to charges of murder or manslaughter, according to a recent study from Bowling Green State University, makes him rather fortunate. [That the entire investigation into Brown’s murder was almost-deliberately bungled by the Ferguson Police Department from day one — including not taking a written statement from Wilson as well allowing him to wash off evidence, also makes any claims of innocence suspect.] And you can imagine that some supposed reformers prefer, as Hess does, to focus more on the few incidents of bad behavior from those on the streets of the St. Louis suburb than on the steadfast protest of residents and political leaders such Antonio French and Maria Chapelle-Nadal.

Of course, dear readers, Hess’ response isn’t shocking. After all, he has long ago displayed his lack of concern for the futures of poor and minority children. From his arguments three years ago arguing that the focus on stemming achievement gaps was some form of “mania”, to the failure to include Parent Power activists such as Samuel and Mona Davids of the New York City Parents Union on forums held at AEI’s swank headquarters, to his complaint last year that advancing systemic reform and school choice for poor and minority families was aiding and abetting bad parenting, Hess’ policy orientation has been long ago clear. And sadly, there are some in the movement who share this callous lack of concern for all of children.

But what explains the silence of the vast majority of reformers who advocate steadfastly in word and deed at every other time for providing all kids high-quality education? Cauhan raised this question in a way today. It isn’t a new one. Your editor called out reformers back in August on their silence immediately after Brown’s slaying as did former National Alliance for Public Charter Schools President Peter C. Groff. This is a question that shouldn’t have to be asked in the first place.

Why? Because the school reform movement should always be out front on all the issues that are impacted by the nation’s education crisis. Because the policies and practices that condemn the academic futures of our children end up spilling into our streets. Because you cannot proclaim yourself to be a champion for all kids if you are not championing them at all times. Because the movement cannot sustain its efforts without support from communities who are also dealing with the other consequences of low-quality education. Because as any adult over 30 knows, you can only reach people when your care and consideration for the matters of their greatest concern. Because reformers, like all Americans, cannot ignore the racialism, state-sanctioned and otherwise, that is the nation’s Original Sin. And because the young man at the center of this tragedy was a human being, who looks like the children whose futures we are working to save, who had a mother and father like every child, and whose death has yielded grief that deserve our attention as both children of God as well as members of the family of man.

To be a school reformer is to look at all the issues that happen in the lives of our kids, understand how American public education impacts those matters adversely, and champion solutions that can transform the schools and other institutions at the center of the lives of children, their families, and the communities in which they live. When reformers don’t live up to their obligations, as both members of a moral movement for bettering the lives of children as well as human beings, they are doing disservice to the mission. The silence of so many reformers on Ferguson is shameful, unacceptable even. And it must stop.

November 24, 2014 standard

The National Education Association just filed its 2013-2014 LM-2 filing with the U.S. Department of Labor, and once again, it spent big to preserve its declining influence over education policymaking. The nation’s largest teachers’ unions spent $132 million on lobbying and contributions to what are supposed to be like-minded organizations, a slight increase over the $131 million poured into such activities last year. This, by the way, doesn’t include another $45 million spent on so-called representational activities which are almost always political in nature.

This past fiscal year, NEA poured plenty of money into Democracy Alliance, the secretive progressive group that played a big role in trying to elect Democratic candidates to national and state offices this year. As Dropout Nation reported earlier this month, NEA and AFT have worked hard to pull Democracy Alliance into its fold; this includes NEA Executive Director John Stocks, a longtime player on the organization’s board, becoming its chairman. NEA poured $160,000 to the main organization itself, along with $250,000 into its Latino Engagement Action Fund, $150,000 into its Youth Engagement Fund, and $50,000 into its Committee on States. Altogether, NEA has devoted $610,000 to Democracy Alliance and its main affiliate organizations. Things didn’t work out so well this past Election Day for either Democracy Alliance or NEA; but that won’t stop either from spending plenty this next election cycle.

NEA also continued its co-opting of other progressive groups, many of which are part of Democracy Alliance’s wider network. This includes $150,000 to Progress Now, a member of Democracy Now’s wider network of groups whose past board members included Rob McKay, Stocks’ predecessor as Democracy Now chairman. The union also poured $250,000 into Center for Popular Democracy and its action fund for its campaigns against charter schools and the so-called “privatization” of public education; $235,000 into Progressive States Network; $200,000 into David Brock’s Media Matters for America; $67,000 into Progress Michigan; $25,000 into the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities (another member of the Democracy Alliance network); and $25,000 into Netroots Nation. Solidifying its relationship with Democracy Alliance outfits, NEA spent $393,542 with Catalist LLC, the data outfit for the Democratic National Committee that has provided information to the organization’s allies in order to elect progressive-oriented candidates. Center for American Progress, which is a strong reform outfit, received $160,000 from the union.

Meanwhile NEA worked harder to build ties to black and Latino advocacy groups. The big winner this year was the Schott Foundation for Public Education, which has long ago abandoned its once-powerful work on how the education crisis damaged the futures of young black men. Through its Opportunity to Learn Fund, Schott picked up $300,000, or as some can say, a lot of chicken wing money. The dollars from NEA (as well as from AFT, which poured $180,000 into the foundation and into Opportunity to Learn) explain why Schott President John Jackson has become such an enthusiastic backer of the effort by the Big Two to roll back the No Child Left Behind Act’s accountability provisions. NEA gave a considerably smaller $25,000 to NAACP, which has been as ineffective on education policy for traditionalists as it was for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (which gave $1 million to the outfit in 2011 for a policy agenda that it never rolled out, as well as participation in the now-moribund Campaign for High School Equity).

The NEA gave $120,400 to the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation, while giving $50,000 to the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute. The union also gave $30,000 to the Board of Hispanic Caucus Chairs; $25,300 to NALEO’s education fund; $15,000 to National Council of La Raza; $15,000 to the National Hispana Leadership Institute; $10,000 to MALDEF; and $7,500 to the National Hispanic Caucus of State Legislators. A new NEA vassal is the Mi Familia Vota Education Fund, which is working in six states with La Raza, the Service Employees International Union, and NALEO on organizing Latinos to become citizens and voters; it picked up $50,000 from the union this past year. Given that new NEA President Lily Eskelsen Garcia likes to play upon her Latina heritage, expect the union to pour more money into reaching those communities. As part of the union’s play on immigration reform, it gave $50,000 to the National Immigration Law Center.

Speaking of signatories to NEA’s and AFT’s effort to roll back No Child: The Advancement Project received $75,000 from NEA, while Barnett Berry’s Center for Teaching Quality received $345,000. Education Law Center received $75,000, while the Partnership for 21st Century Skills (a longtime NEA vassal) received a mere $15,000. Even with the sums given to Schott Foundation, NEA spent very little money to gain adherence to its vision, especially from groups that are supposed to look out for the best interests of black and Latino children.

But NEA’s efforts aren’t just limited to that spending. The union poured $9.8 million into its Advocacy Fund super-PAC, which spent big this year to unsuccessfully help Democrats retain seats in North Carolina, Arkansas, and Colorado. The super-PAC itself spent $17 million during the 2013-2014 election cycle, according to OpenSecrets.org. Over the past two fiscal years, NEA poured $15.4 million into the Advocacy Fund; whether or not it was money well spent (especially in the minds of younger teachers looking to elevate the profession) is a much-different story.

Among the usual suspects: The Economic Policy Center picked up a mere $48,000 this past fiscal year, an 81 percent decline from the $250,000 it had received in 2012-2013. Through the University of Colorado Foundation, NEA also donated $250,000 to the National Education Policy Center, whose policy studies also align with the union’s positions. A big winner among usual suspects was the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, the outfit whose training programs do little to improve the quality of teaching performance; it picked up $216,904 from NEA coffers. NEA poured $397,195 into the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation, which was formed by last year’s merger of the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education and the Teacher Education Accreditation Council.

The union gave $7,500 to Joel Packer’s Committee for Education Funding, $10,000 to Rebuild America’s Schools, $160,000 to the National Public Pension Coalition, and $250,000 to Great Lakes Center for Education Research and Practice. The Republican Main Street Partnership and its Main Street Advocacy Fund picked up $275,000 from the union; while the Learning First Alliance received $121,100.

Just so it can keep support from the very teachers it is supposed to represent — and looking to show that it cares about elevating the teaching profession it debases through its defense of quality-blind seniority-based privileges and reverse-seniority layoff rules — the NEA gave $77,000 to the National Network of State Teachers of the Year. This shouldn’t be shocking; after all, the selection of teachers of the year is usually more of a popularity contest than one based on objective measures of teacher performance. Since few people give that much thought, NEA can easily gain some goodwill from the spend. It also gave $35,000 to the National Teacher Hall of Fame, and $191,600 to teacher quality reform outfit Teach Plus.

Meanwhile the NEA spent considerable sums propping up busted affiliates. It poured $1.2 million into the insolvent Indiana State Teachers Association; this doesn’t include the $52,571 loan made to the union during that period, or the $880,440 to maintain the building the Hoosier State affiliate occupies across the street from the Indiana Statehouse. Yet somehow ISTA managed to whittle down the money it owes to NEA by $2.4 million (to $13.5million) within the past year. NEA also subsidized the virtually-insolvent Michigan Education Association to the tune of $6.1 million last year, a slight decline over the $6.3 million given to the union and its PAC in 2012-2013; and poured $814,370 into the South Carolina Education Association, which the union had to put into receivership four years ago.

As for the NEA’s top honchos? Now-former president Dennis Van Roekel was paid $541,632, a 32 percent increase over his salary in 2012-2013; while Eskelsen Garcia picked up $345,728, a slight decline over her income last year (but still enough to buy some acoustic guitars for her occasional impromptu folk music performances); and Secretary-Treasurer Rebecca Pringle (now vice president of the union) pulled down $337,618, a 2.5 percent drop over last year. Altogether, the NEA’s big three were paid $1.2 million in 2013-2014, a nine percent increase over the previous fiscal year. [Note that this doesn’t include new Secretary-Treasurer Princess Moss, who pulled down $96,897 as a member of the union’s executive committee.] As Dropout Nation always says, there’s nothing wrong with NEA leaders and their counterparts at the AFT drawing six-figure sums. But remind Van Roekel and successor Eskelsen about their dollars (and the corporate ways the NEA and the AFT engage in their defense of traditionalist policies and thinking) whenever they try to use class warfare rhetoric to oppose systemic reform of American public education.

This statement also applies to the NEA’s 374 staffers earning six-figure sums; by the way, that is five more than in 2012-2013. Among the highly-paid employees: Executive Director Stocks, who pulled down $412,398 in 2013-2014 (a 7.3 percent increase over the previous year); General Counsel Alice O’Brien, whose $233,153 in compensation was slightly lower than last fiscal year; and membership czar Bill Thompson, who was paid $229,878, also a slight decline from last year. NEA top lobbyist Marcus Egan was paid $$172,870 in 2013-2014, a 2.3 percent increase over the previous fiscal year. Again, the NEA’s payroll shows that being a teachers’ union official is a lucrative line of work. Again, whether this is working out for teachers, especially given the union’s declining clout, is a different story.

Dropout Nation will provide additional analysis of the NEA’s financial filing later this week. You can check out the data yourself by checking out the HTML and PDF versions of the NEA’s latest financial report, or by visiting the Department of Labor’s Web site.

November 20, 2014 standard

If you want to understand how federal education policymaking between the Obama Administration and congressional Republicans will play out over the next two years, just check out the battle over reforming America’s dysfunctional immigration system.

As you already know, the sparring between the administration and congressional Republicans reached a new crescendo last night when President Obama issued an executive order temporarily staying deportation for five million undocumented emigres, many of whom have children who are American citizens by birth. Certainly this has aroused the ire of Republicans, especially those movement conservatives demanding even more restrictions (and red tape) upon the layers of rules already in place. House Speaker John Boehner and other congressional Republican leaders have spent the past two weeks threatening that Obama’s action would be a breakdown of good faith between the two sides that would lead to reprisals from them. This has ranged from plans to pads legislation that they know Obama would veto as soon as it got to his desk, to shutting down all but the most essential federal operations by refusing to pass another of the various continuing resolutions that have passed for what should be sensible budgeting. From where the Republicans sit, Obama has engaged in “lawlessness” because he has supposedly violated the U.S. Constitution, has behaved like an emperor, and, as a result, has “squandered what little credibility” he has left (with Republicans, of course).

Yet Boehner and his colleagues have done little other than bluster on this front. They haven’t even attempted to pass legislation overturning an earlier Obama Administration executive order on immigration, the Deferred Action on Childhood Arrivals, which held off deportation for undocumented immigrant young people brought to the country as kids by their parents, or even filed a lawsuit against the order as they have done today over the administration’s implementation of the Affordable Car Act. Why? Because they don’t have much more they can do other than bluster.

For one, as even legal scholars and immigration experts less-sympathetic to the administration such as Ilya Somin of the Cato Institute and Shikha Dahmia of the Reason Foundation have noted, federal immigration law grants the Obama Administration we latitude in temporarily staying deportations and operating the rest of the immigration system. In fact, Congress (including Republicans now in leadership in the House and Senate) granted that authority in the Immigration Reform and Control Act passed 28 years ago. The fact that earlier administrations, including that of Ronald Reagan and George Bush, have also implemented similar executive orders. Give the law as well as the political, legal, and historical precedents, Obama’s decision is defensible on all possible grounds. That the executive order itself is limited in scope, leaving seven million of the 11.4 million  undocumented emigres subject to deportation, is also a factor, as is the reality that the Obama Administration has deported more undocumented emigres than any of his recent predecessors (a matter congressional Republicans and immigration reform opponents fail to acknowledge).

The second reason is purely about long-term politics. Like their Democrat colleagues, Republicans are quite aware of the usefulness of expansive presidential authority in advancing political goals, especially when they don’t control the federal legislature. Having a president retain wide constitutional latitude in administering the executive branch, especially when controlling parties in both houses are gridlocked on key issues, allows for policymaking to continue. Add in the reality for House and Senate Republicans that key constituencies within the party (including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce) want immigration reform, as well as the need to expand the base in the long term to include black and Latino communities (the latter of which is key to the Republicans’ lock on political power in Texas), and the party has little choice but to just bluster and threaten.

Even if congressional Republicans pass legislation (including continuing resolutions) that attempt to stop enforcement of the immigration executive order, they can’t make it stick. Right now, the Republicans only control the House and, thanks to arcane rules, merely have the power to block legislation in the Senate. Even when they take over the Senate in January, they lack veto-proof majorities in both bodies to overcome Obama’s rejection of their legislation. There’s also the fact that Senate Democrats can now leverage the very rules uses Republicans used to block legislation; while Obama’s relationship with Senate Democrats are not much better than that he has with Republicans, his party has to also keep in mind the need to rally their political base in order to keep the White House in their control after 2016.

What you have with immigration reform is stalemate, one that, for all the bluster coming from Boehner and Senate colleague Mitch McConnell, favors the Obama Administration at nearly every turn and, therefore, will be exploited as the president attempts to establish a legacy that can’t so easily be reversed by his immediate successor. This is a reality reformers must keep in mind as they consider what to do on the federal level in these coming days and years.

For President Barack Obama, Election Day losses may have helped him far more than anyone has imagined.

Certainly one can say that the most-immediate consequences of this month’s election losses by the Democratic National Committee is that the Obama Administration is weaker politically. But that is assuming that Democrat control of the Senate was actually valuable to the administration in the first place. Sure the administration didn’t want the party to lose control; but the history of midterm elections for second-term presidents all but assured that this would be a reality. But given that Senate Democrats had little success in passing legislation other than continuing resolutions that would be acceptable to House Republicans (and that’s when Senate Republicans weren’t blocking every bill they could), Obama is actually no worse than he was before the election.

If anything, one can argue that the Obama Administration is in a stronger position than it was earlier this year. The first reason is that it no longer has to worry about defending vulnerable Senate Democrat seats that were quite likely to be lost because of dissatisfaction among voters over the nation’s continuing economic malaise. Free of the responsibility to keep Senate seats, the administration can do now is forge a path that may be more-helpful to Democrats two years from now when Republicans have to both defend vulnerable seats coming up for re-election and try to recapture the White House. Secondly, thanks to the Constitution, the penchant of Congress to dispense the details of legislation to administrative rule-making (the real vehicle for making laws a reality), the executive authority granted to the Oval Office both through current legislation and legal precedent, and the divisions among Republicans themselves, the Obama Administration has plenty of policymaking tools at its disposal.

These two realities are prominent in the debate over the expansiveness of federal education policymaking — and the future of the federal role in advancing systemic reform that has been embraced by presidents and Congress since Richard Nixon proposed the creation of what became the Institute of Educational Sciences five decades ago.

This hasn’t fully occurred to most reformers, especially those in the Beltway. Some conservative reformers, caught up in irrational exuberance, think that congressional Republicans and the Obama Administration will engage in honest negotiating on a compromise reauthorization of No Child next year. That’s naivete bordering on stupidity. Anyone who has watched how Obama and congressional Republicans have dealt with each other over the past six years know that neither side will deal with each other in good faith.

On one hand, Obama has proven over and over again that he will do whatever is legally and constitutionally possible to go around congressional opposition from Republicans and Democrats alike. The No Child waiver gambit exemplifies this. Obama could have gotten a reauthorization passed as early as 2009,when Democrats controlled both houses. But he didn’t as much because he didn’t want to watering down his reform agenda in order to satisfy the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers as because of opposition from congressional Republicans looking to deny him a legislative victory. The waiver gambit, along with administering of the school reform initiatives for which the administration won congressional approval, allows the president to pursue (questionable) policymaking that he favors.

The No Child waiver gambit is reckless policymaking that has weakened systemic reform on the ground. But as Conor Williams of the New America Foundation has noted, it is also a critical aspect of President Obama’s legacy. Defending the waivers, along with Race to the Top, I3, and the School Improvement Grant initiatives, is the single most-important effort the administration must do. Given that proposed reauthorizations of No Child — including the second version of the Student Success Act passed out of the House last year — would gut the waivers as well as No Child itself, Obama has no interest in negotiating.

House Speaker John Boehner and his fellow congressional Republicans talk tough. But have a weak hand when it comes to combating the Obama Administration on the education front.

As for congressional Republicans? They could have passed a new version of No Child that was more amenable to the Obama Administration that still would have accomplished their policy goals. But they haven’t had much interest in doing so. Concerned primarily with grinding down Obama’s agenda and with putting a Republican back into the White House in 2016 as well as looking to please hardcore activists among movement conservatives (including Heritage Foundation’s political action wing), congressional Republicans done everything they can to deny the administration a legislative victory. The emergence of Lamar Alexander as chairman of the Senate Health Education Labor and Pensions Committee will not change these and other dynamics one bit; in fact, the former school reformer, now an apostate from the movement, is as much a problem as the rather Machiavellian John Kline, who chairs the House Education and the Workforce Committee.

There’s also the reality that congressional Republicans are divided among themselves over key educational issues, especially between hardcore movement conservatives who want to cut all federal education subsidies, suburban Republicans who represent districts that benefit just as much from them as those in Democrat districts, and Republicans who embrace No Child as fervently as their allies in the business community. There’s the discord between congressional Republicans and their gubernatorial colleagues who have benefited both from No Child and the waiver gambit (and are also concerned about their political prospects). And never forget that while Kline is the driving force on education legislation, he must still deal with a weakened Boehner, a coauthor of No Child who is not all that interested in eviscerating his handiwork (and has shown occasional willingness to speak honestly to his colleagues when they engage in reckless policymaking).

So a reauthorization of No Child is off the table until at least 2017, when the next president takes office. Until then, the Obama Administration and congressional Republicans will continue sparring over the direction of federal education policy. As with the battle over immigration reform, it is one that plays to the Obama Administration’s advantage. And the administration is already leveraging the opportunity.

Obama and U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan fired the first salvo last week when they unveiled guidance for granting No Child waiver extensions. Because the extensions may last as long as three years, the Obama Administration is essentially moving to institutionalize the gambit and make it difficult for congressional Republicans (or anyone else) to undue it. Certainly the waiver gambit itself is far more legally questionable than the president’s executive order on deportations; the idea that states can ignore federal law is not even close to acceptable. But as with immigration (where the legality of the president’s executive order is firmly established by statute, history, and legal precedent), the Obama Administration can argue that the effort is defensible.

Meanwhile the Obama Administration have already taken steps on other fronts. The move by the Department of Education and the Justice Department earlier this year to issue guidance on ending overuse of harsh school discipline (along with accompanying investigations of districts such as Tupelo, Miss., and Minneapolis), will continue even as congressional Republicans and normally-sensible conservative reformers argue against it. The administration’s effort to address the failure of districts to provide college-preparatory courses (including Advanced Placement classes) to poor and minority kids is also proceeding apace.

The waiver gambit will likely stand because congressional Republicans (along with their Democrat colleagues) will do nothing other than bluster about it. After all, complain about the waiver gambit is all that congressional Republicans have done since the Obama Administration undertook it three years ago. The easiest solution to ending the waivers was for House Republicans to team up with Senate Democrats and the Obama Administration on a compromise version of No Child reauthorization. As the Center for Education Reform noted last year in its review of the Student Success Act and the competing Senate Democrat plan (which in many ways reflects the No Child waiver gambit), there is little substantial difference between both plans, especially in their adverse consequences for the futures of children. But Kline and his fellow House Republicans never pulled that together mostly because they had no interest in giving Obama anything close to a legislative victory.

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan is already heading up the Obama Administration’s offensive against congressional Republicans on the education policy front. Photo courtesy of the Associated Press.

There’s another reason why the waiver gambit will likely stand: Because as with immigration reform, congressional Republicans have to think about the political long term. What if they gain the presidency in 2016, but lose control of the Senate to Democrats? As with Obama during the last four years, a Republican president will likely struggle mightily on gaining a legislative victory. This isn’t to say this is so: If former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who like his brother, has worked well with Democrats on education, wins the Republican nomination and then the presidency, a compromise on No Child reauthorization may be possible. But given the good-but-not-great odds of Bush winning the nomination, Republicans want to keep their options open. And thanks to the waiver gambit, Obama has offered it to them.

Then there is the fact that congressional Republicans have no ability to make their version of a No Child authorization become law. Because they lack veto-proof majorities in both houses, Obama can veto any version of No Child that isn’t to his liking (that is, keeps the waiver gambit in place), and suffer few consequences. Congressional Republicans can try to cut funding for Race to the Top and other competitive grants through continuing resolutions. But as with Obama on his continued efforts to cut funding for D.C.’s school voucher program, Republicans can be easily forced into finding the dollars for those initiatives. [That even Republicans privately admit finding favor with competitive grants also factors into the equation.] Could Republicans just shut down the federal government? Sure. But given that the last time they did that ended up with the loss of sequestration (which fiscal conservatives such as Grover Norquist lamented because it led to automatic discretionary spending cuts), that won’t happen, either.

This isn’t to say that it is good news for reformers on the federal education policy front. Not at all. For one, as Dropout Nation has documented over the past three years, the No Child waiver gambit has been counterproductive to systemic reform on the ground. One of the consequences: Efforts to eviscerate No Child’s annual testing requirements, which have helped provide families, teachers, school leaders, politicians, and researchers much-needed data on how states and districts help all children succeed. it is quite likely that the Obama Administration will either sign onto congressional legislation ending annual testing or even offer waivers to states allowing them to dispense with it. So reformers must advocate strongly against such a move.

For American Indian and Alaska Native children, the stalemate will also likely mean no action on overhauling the U.S. Bureau of Indian Education. The woeful state of the federally-run school system will remain that way for some time at the expense of kids who have long been subjected to educational genocide. Even worse, given Kline’s penchant for trying to cut Title VI and Title VII funding even amid opposition from fellow Republicans representing Oklahoma and other states with large numbers of Native students, expect a renewed effort; Boehner, who has never been fond of any of it (which, given how poorly those dollars are spent, is somewhat understandable) won’t stand in the way.

The stalemate is also counterproductive to systemic reform because the federal government plays a critical role in sustaining systemic reform on the ground. This includes the Reagan Administration’s publication of A Nation at Risk — which took the work of southern state governors and chambers of commerce and promoted them on a national level — and No Child (which built upon the school accountability regimes of states such as Texas and Florida and gave cover to governors fighting against traditionalists to implement similar efforts). Certainly the more-active federal role in education policymaking is perfect or always an unqualified success. But it is clear that the federal role is crucial to advancing reforms that help all children succeed.

This isn’t to say that reformers should despair. Given that both No Child and the waivers reaffirm the role of state governments in overseeing public education, reformers must work hard in statehouses and in the grassroots to advance systemic reforms. That Election Day also proved to be a qualified boon politically for the movement also offers promise. Even if No Child was reauthorized in its current form, focusing on reform at the state level would still be top priority.

But the stalemate between the Obama Administration and congressional Republicans will continue. And not for the good of our children.

Featured photo courtesy of Harvard Business Review.

November 13, 2014 standard

Yesterday’s revelation by Washington Free Beacon of documents detailing how secretive progressive outfit Democracy Alliance coordinated its unsuccessful efforts to elect Democratic candidates during this year’s election cycle have certainly stirred discussion. After all, for all the carping of progressive groups (especially education traditionalists) this year over the role of David and Charles Koch in financing political campaigns, the report by Lachlan Markey show that they are also far too willing to leverage money in their campaigning — and even go around campaign finance laws to do so. This includes the Democracy Alliance members working with Catalist LLC, the data hub for the Democratic National Committee, to use the party’s donor and voter data to quietly coordinate their efforts.

Yet school reformers should pay great heed to Markey’s report as well as to the documents revealed. Why? Because they also offer a guide on how the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers are co-opting progressive groups in order to defend their declining influence over education policy.

As Dropout Nation readers know by now, the NEA and AFT have long been key donors to progressive outfits willing to do their bidding. In 2013-2014 alone, the AFT gave $25,000 each to Progressive States Network, Progress Michigan, and Netroots Nation, while handing out another $60,000 to Center for Popular Democracy’s Action Fund, which has campaigned against the expansion of charter schools and so-called “privatization” of American public education. In 2012-2013, NEA contributed $332,000 to Progress Now; $100,000 to Progressive States Action, an affiliate of the Progressive States Network; and and $30,000 to the Leadership Center for the Common Good Action Fund, one of the now-defunct ACORN’s many spinoffs.

But increasingly, the NEA and AFT are turning to Democracy Alliance for help. For good reason. As novelist Chuck Palahniuk would write, the first rule about membership in Democracy Alliance is that you don’t say you’re part of it. Such secrecy is especially helpful to the Big Two teachers’ unions, who are required by law to report their finances including contributions to political groups; they can donate to Democracy Alliance and its Committee of States, then team up with other progressive outfits with more stealth than they are used to having.

That Democracy Alliance is tied to many of the groups to which NEA and AFT already sustain through their coffers also assures them that they have (mostly) loyal allies at the table; particularly for the NEA, which has found that its contributions to nonprofits haven’t always led to reciprocal support for its agenda, the existence of Democracy Alliance is especially helpful. There’s also the fact that Democracy Alliance is a hub for some of the leading well-heeled progressive donors and political players in the nation. This includes Rob Stein, the founder of the organization, who was a longtime operative for former President Bill Clinton before becoming a seed investor in tech startups, and hedge fund legend George Soros, who is as much a bogeyman to conservatives as the Koch Brothers are to the left.

[Full disclosure: I am an alum of a Koch-backed nonprofit, the Institute for Humane Studies, and an adviser to Black Alliance for Education Options, which received money from Soros’ Open Society Foundations. Yes, I’m bipartisan like that.]

Over the past couple of years, NEA and AFT have become more-prominent players within Democracy Alliance. Last year, after AFT President Randi Weingarten joined Democracy Alliance as a partner, AFT began donating money to the outfit; it gave $60,000 to the outfit in 2013-2014, while also donating $30,000 to its Texas Future Project, which aimed to help Democratic candidates such as gubernatorial nominee Wendy Davis win office. [That donation was part of AFT’s wider mobilizing effort in the Lone Star State.] Weingarten isn’t the only AFT leader or staffer tied with Democracy Alliance. Michelle Ringuette, the former Service Employees International Union operative who is now Weingarten’s assistant, also joined the outfit last year. Weingarten noted that the union would pour $233,000 into Democracy Alliance this year.

The role of the NEA is far more extensive. NEA Executive Director John Stocks (who is now working to coerce the union’s vassals to sign onto its so-called social justice agenda), has long been active in Democracy Alliance’s Committee on States, the hub for its activities on the state level, as well as a member of the organization’s board. This includes bringing in such players as Dave Horwich, a former Clinton Administration advance man who is now the mouthpiece for prime (and secretive) Democratic Party donor Fred Eychaner, to a Democracy Alliance event this year. In April, he replaced Taco Bell heir Robert McKay as chairman of the organization, making the NEA (along with the AFT) the driving force of its agenda. The union is also one of Democracy Alliance’s biggest funders, handing over $110,000 in 2012-2013 (including $25,000 to its Committee on States, the hub for the outfit’s activities on the state level). In fact, the union gave $634,278 to Democracy Alliance between 2009-2010 and 2012-2013, according to Dropout Nation‘s analysis of filings with the U.S. Department of Labor.

Meanwhile the Big Two are amplifying their support for Democracy Alliance by backing the array of organizations that are part of the organization’s network of progressive activists. Among the organizations: The Nation, the bible of the progressive movement, which became a member of Democracy Alliance’s network within the past year; its affiliate, the Nation Institute, became a new AFT donor in 2013-2014, receiving $10,000 from the union. Another is Demos, the progressive think tank; it picked up $13,333 from AFT this past fiscal year. The results of AFT support (and likely, the affiliation with Democracy Alliance) can be seen in The Nation‘s report late last month on Teach For America’s public relations statement (and misstatement that it was surreptitiously tipped off by Obama Administration officials about a Freedom of Information Act request), as well as an essay criticizing reform in Politico written by Demos scholar (and former New York Times columnist) Bob Herbert. [Note that The Nation didn’t mention its ties with the AFT or Democracy Alliance in the report.]

There’s plenty for the NEA and AFT to learn from Democracy Alliance. One lesson lies in how to get around the campaign finance laws that often serve as firewalls of sorts between the advocacy activities of 501(c)3 nonprofits and explicit campaigning activities of political parties, Super-PACs, and 501(c)4 groups. Expect the two unions and their affiliates to spend plenty of time understanding how Democracy Alliance works those loopholes — and then take advantage of them in their own activities. Given that AFT President Weingarten has snapped up key progressive players such as Ringuette into the union’s fold, don’t be shocked if Democracy Alliance staffers end up working for the union or even for the NEA, both of which offer sweet compensation packages few outside of K Street can match.

The question for the Big Two is how are their ties to Democracy Alliance playing out for them where it counts: At the ballot box. As you already know, it didn’t work out so well. Davis, who was heavily backed by the group and the AFT, lost big in Texas to Republican Gregg Abbott. Other favored progressives also lost big elsewhere. The rank-and-file members for both unions, most of whom are forced to pay into their coffers, can easily argue that the money both unions have sunk into Democracy Alliance was wasted. Both would have been better off devoting the dollars to activities that actually help elevate the teaching profession they both claim to represent.

Just as importantly, NEA and AFT can’t even say that Democracy Alliance is totally in their corner. For one, the organization’s board includes Mary Kay Henry, president of the Service Employees International Union, which is both a competitor with AFT in the healthcare field as well as a supporter of school reform efforts through locals in Southern California and elsewhere. There’s also Nick Hanauer, the bedding products heir and tech investor, who challenged the NEA’s Washington State local two years ago. Add in the Center for American Progress, a strong backer of school reform (as well as a wayward recipient of NEA and AFT money), and it is clear that there are plenty of progressives who realize that the efforts of the two unions to defend traditionalist policies and practices fail to serve their political priorities. They also know that aiding and abetting NEA and AFT also means supporting a public sector union version of corporate welfare — or protecting the rich, as they would say — at the expense of poor and minority children as well as their families.

For reformers, especially centrist and progressive Democrats within the movement (who end up working closely with Democracy Alliance-backed outfits even as they oppose their ties to the Big Two), it is important to keep tabs on how both the NEA and AFT are structuring their political activities. With Democracy Alliance becoming an increasingly important part of their influence-buying activities, reformers must be ready to counter with even greater political savvy than they usually display.

Featured photo: NEA Executive Director John Stocks.