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March 23, 2017 standard

So long as reformers in Maryland and other states fail to galvanize and work with poor and minority communities, the movement will struggle to keep the gains made on behalf of our children. Don’t believe it? Consider the experiences your editor has had over the past few years on this front.

Two years ago, your editor ended up meeting with state legislators in Dropout Nation‘s home state of Maryland as part of an unsuccessful effort to convince them to oppose a charter school law that essentially weakened efforts to provide poor and minority children with high-quality schools. Your editor uses the word “ended up” because I wasn’t invited by any of the Old Line State’s reform players.

Originally, I was coming to Annapolis to grab lunch with former Black Alliance for Educational Options President Kenneth Campbell, who was brought to town from his home in Louisiana by Center for Education Reform to lobby those very legislators. But because of the scheduling conflicts and other usual delays that happen when you are meeting with legislators, your editor ended up at the statehouse with Campbell and Kara Kerwin, CER’s president at the time.

Certainly the meetings were interesting for what they were. But what struck me that day was the shallowness of the bench for the reform side — especially considering that the National Education Association’s Old Line State affiliate can call up several hundred teachers to press the flesh with legislators at a moment’s notice. If your editor was contacted to help, I could have called at least 10 other people (all Black) who could have reached out to other state legislators. Those folks, in turn, could have brought their children and others along to explain why passing the bill would harm poor and minority children, especially those in the state’s public charter schools.

But it didn’t have to be just me. Within Prince George’s County alone, there are more than a few influential players who could have helped out. Here are three of the top of my head: Byron Garrett, the former chief executive officer of National PTA and onetime charter school leader. Deborah Veney, the communications czar of NewSchools Venture Fund who still has a home in the area. Even George Parker, the former head of the American Federation of Teachers’ District of Columbia affiliate, who has become a stalwart proponent of advancing school choice. All three, along with others, could have helped out if White reformers bothered to pick up the phone.

This experience came to mind today as I read former Thomas B. Fordham Institute President-turned-Maryland State Board of Education Vice President Chester (Checker) Finn’s lament about House Bill 978 and Senate Bill 871, two bills that would effectively condemn the futures of poor and minority children in the state by restricting the state department of education from holding failure mills and warehouses of mediocrity from any form of accountability. This includes banning state education officials from using an A-to-F grading system for measuring school and district performance as well as take over failure mills. Essentially, legislators want the state to abandon its constitutional (and federally-required) responsibility to oversee its public education system.

Even though Finn, along with his former colleagues at Fordham were responsible for pushing the Every Students Succeed Act that all but eliminated the federal government’s role in leading systemic reform (and keeping states such as Maryland from rolling back accountability), I won’t say I told you so — this time. In fact, I sympathize with Finn and agree that Old Line State legislators are harming the futures of children. Yet the success of traditionalists in getting both bills passed is another example of how reformers in Maryland (as well as those in other states) have done a shoddy job of reaching out to the Black and Latino communities best-positioned to blunt opposition to systemic reform.

Not once did Finn or his former Fordham colleague, Andy Smarick (who is president of the state board) bother to call Black and Latino reformers I know to assist them in opposing these efforts. Nor did I get an e-mail at any point asking for just a little help. Chances are that neither Finn and Smarick, nor their allies, approached any of the regional branches of Black fraternities and sororities such as Delta Sigma Theta to which many of Maryland’s Black politicians belong and must pay heed), or to Black churches such as First Baptist Church of Glenarden, First Baptist Church of Highland Park, and Jamal Bryant’s Empowerment Temple A.M.E. What about Black Lives Matter activist Deray McKesson (who works in Baltimore and ran for mayor last year)? Or even broadcaster Roland Martin, who is based across the way in Virginia and has a reach into Black communities that rivals nearly every reformer? Nope. Not them, either.

Again, given that Black and Latino players were never asked for help, it is no shock that Finn, Smarick and their allies now find themselves facing bitter defeat. It isn’t just on accountability. Driven by traditionalists as well as by their goal of keeping popular Republican Gov. Larry Hogan from gaining any future legislative victories, the Democratic-controlled legislature is working to stifle the new voucher program Hogan successfully brought to life last year and have killed an effort to expand the number of charter schools serving the state.

Certainly this is not a new issue. Dropout Nation has spent the past few years advising reformers to build stronger ties to poor and minority communities. But the admonitions issued from these pages now loom ever larger as reformers in Maryland and elsewhere find themselves in a political environment in which neither Republicans nor Democrats are willing to do more than necessary to help all children succeed. More importantly, thanks to abolishing of the No Child Left Behind Act and its powerful Adequate Yearly Progress provisions, as well as the move this month by Congressional Republicans to eviscerate ESSA’s administrative rules, reformers need stronger ground games at the state level in order to oppose NEA and AFT affiliate as well as traditional districts who have the bodies and relationships to roll back past reforms.

Traditionalists would have a harder time if reformers can rally the millions of Black and Latino families, along with immigrant households, single-parent households, and families led by grandparents who are concerned about building brighter futures for their children. But the movement has long failed to embrace the advice of reformers such as Green Dot founder Steve Barr and Connecticut Parents Union President Gwen Samuel on building stronger ties: Listen to the concerns of those communities; work with them on the issues outside of education that concern; include them at the decision-making and planning table; don’t simply ask for support when it is time to roll out the yellow t-shirts for protest marches.

The fact that many of the leading reform groups have no Black or Latino reformers in leadership also makes efforts by the movement to win support especially suspect. After all, for these communities, White people are the outsiders who always come bearing proverbial gifts that must be viewed with absolute suspicion. The movement cannot expect to win over the people they proclaim to be serving if people who look like them aren’t there in the first place.

What is happening in Maryland is terrible for our children. But reformers have had three decades to build up the political resources needed to oppose rollbacks of systemic reform. The most-important resource of all is people, especially those Black and Brown who represent the very children we are working to help.

February 7, 2017 standard

There should be no surprise that Betsy DeVos was confirmed as U.S. Secretary of Education this afternoon by the Senate. Nor should anyone be surprised that her confirmation required a vote by Vice President Mike Pence in his role as ceremonial leader of the federal upper house. DeVos has managed the astounding feat of gaining more votes against her confirmation than any previous appointee to the post.

Also not shocking, of course, is the visceral reaction to DeVos’ confirmation from those who supported and opposed her, especially conservative, centrist Democrat and civil rights-oriented reformers in an increasingly divided movement.

On one side, American Federation for Children, the school choice advocate DeVos previously chaired before her nomination, declared that her confirmation is “a time of opportunity and transformation”, while former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush’s Foundation for Excellence in Education sent out tweets thanking Senate Republicans (other than Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski) for voting for her. Meanwhile Neal McCluskey of the Cato Institute celebrated DeVos’ nomination, accusing opponents of her nomination of “being unfair to her”.

On the other side, DeVos’ immediate predecessor as education secretary, current Education Trust President John King, hoped that DeVos would “prove us wrong”, while House Education and the Workforce Committee Ranking Democrat Bobby Scott declared that she “failed to make a credible case” for getting her job. Catherine Brown, the education czar for the Center for American Progress (which has emerged as the leading school reform outfit opposed to DeVos’ confirmation — and garnered the criticism of conservative reformers for its stridency), proclaimed that DeVos’ confirmation was an example of how the Amway heiress’ fortune bought her support despite being “Unprepared, unaware, and unqualified.”

Your editor has already spent months explaining why DeVos shouldn’t be Secretary of Education. Certainly her strong support for expanding school choice is much appreciated here on these pages. But transforming American public education requires more than championing choice. A Secretary of Education, who runs the agency charged with ensuring that all children, especially those black and brown, gain high-quality education must be strident and vocal against those who want to subject the most-vulnerable to the rarely-soft bigotry of low expectations, oppose bigotry even from her counterparts within an administration, and have curiosity and grasp of the policy and practice issues within American public education. DeVos has exhibited none of this so far, and unlike King, your editor has no expectation that this state of affairs will change.

This, by the way, extends to other appointees whom DeVos is bringing to the Department of Education. Certainly some of the people coming to work for the agency — including former Thomas B. Fordham Institute staffer Michael Brickman, and Matt Frendewey (who was running American Federation for Children’s communications department) are people who have proven their commitment to helping all children succeed. But past performance isn’t enough — especially when choosing to work for an administration that has denigrated the families of immigrant children, Latino children, and those of the Muslim faith. Your editor prays for them to do right by all children — and so should you. They will need every prayer for discernment we can give.

But in any case, DeVos now holds the office. Which means that reformers must continue to do the hard work transforming American public education regardless of what she and her appointees do — and, given the Trump Administration’s professed and public bigotry against those who aren’t white, in spite of them.

This starts by remembering our mission: Building brighter futures for every child, no matter who they are or where they live. As civil rights activists of the last century understood, there will always be administrations, elected officials and interest groups who will be hostile against helping all children succeed. What matters more is that we work smartly, strategically, and stridently for children as well as the families who love and care for them.

It starts by playing the Capitol Hill political game. Over the next four years, there will be regulations that will be drafted and finessed through administrative rulemaking and red-lining; legislation that will be deliberated and debated; and meetings that will be held quietly and privately. Reformers must get into every step of these processes, and master every arcane rule that can either stop legislation from passing, or lead to its passage.

This means remembering that the most-important battles over overhauling American public education lies not in Washington, but in the statehouses and local communities throughout the nation. Now, more than ever, reformers must build stronger ties to families and communities (including immigrant households, single-parent families, grandparents, and minority households).

It also means working more-closely with Black Lives Matter activists and others working to reform the criminal justice systems that also harm so many of our children. And it even means working with immigrant rights groups and branches of the American Civil Liberties Union that are fighting stridently against efforts by the Trump Administration to deport undocumented immigrants as well as working to protect children covered by Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals.

Finally, it means advancing the solutions needed to help every child succeed. From overhauling how we recruit, train, manage and compensate teachers, to expanding choice and Parent Power, to advancing stronger accountability (and ensuring that every institution and adult is providing high quality education to our children), there is much to be done, much we can do, and not one minute to waste.

Along the way, there will be divides between various camps in the reform movement. In some cases, reformers will have to agree to disagree. Other times, there will be open conflict. Some within the movement will leave it because they feel that colleagues with different ideologies are on the wrong side. This is to be expected. What must be accepted among all reformers is that there will be conflict. What needs to be done is to make those conflicts productive so that it crystallizes, clarifies, reveals, humbles, and creates so that we can build better worlds for our children.

Now that the battle over DeVos’ confirmation is over, let’s continue working for brighter futures for every child. Especially in this age, they need us to do all we can for them.

December 9, 2016 standard

One of the bigger stories with the National Education Association is the loss of rank-and-file. Thanks to efforts by governors and state legislatures in Wisconsin, Tennessee, Michigan, Indiana, and Alabama to end collective bargaining and compulsory dues payments, the nation’s largest teachers’ union and its affiliates has seen declines in rank-and-file, putting strain on its finances in the process. As a result, NEA’s rank-and-file declined by 6.3 percent between 2010-2011 and 2014-2015 (from 3.3 million to three million), resulting in a 2.2 percent decline in dues collection within that same period.

But as the union reported in its 2015-2016 financial disclosure to the U.S. Department of Labor, the declines have stopped, at least for the time-being. The bad news? The finances of its affiliates, along with the long-term loss of rank-and-filers to come, continue to weigh heavily on the union’s future prospects.

NEA sustained no declines in rank-and-file this past fiscal year. That’s the good news. But it didn’t significantly increase them, either. NEA added just 8,804 rank-and-filers and agency fee-payers to the rolls in 2015-2016, which led to a mere two-tenths of a one percent increase over the past year.

As a result of stemming those losses, as well as a $1 average increase in annual dues (from an average of $119.05 per member in 2014-2015 to $120.05 in 2015-2016), NEA collected $367 million in dues last fiscal year, a 1.1 percent increase over the previous period.

NEA’s overall revenue of $388 million was a slight decline from levels in 2014-2015. This included $8.4 million in revenue from NEA Member Benefits Corp. the financial scheme the union runs to peddle annuities to its rank-and-file (which also gets kickbacks from the Wall Street firms that sell through it); that is 13.6 percent more than revenues generated from the outfit last year.

Meanwhile the union generated a surplus of $1.4 million for 2015-2016. That’s a 95 percent decline from the $27 million in surplus generated in the previous period. Why? A 30 percent increase in general overhead costs (from $51 million to $66 million), and a 65 percent increase in asset and investment purchases (from $8.3 million to $13.7 million) offset declines in benefit expenditures. A five percent increase in payments to its pension (from $19.7 million to $20.7 million) also led to the lower surplus. At least none of the lowered surplus can be blamed on poor internal controls or embezzlement.

But the good news on rank-and-file numbers, such as it is, doesn’t hide the reality that NEA’s future, financial as well as political, is quite bleak.

The union’s affiliates affected the most by the abolition of compulsory dues are still taking hits. The union’s virtually-insolvent Michigan Education Association, for example, had just 127,785 rank-and-file in 2015-2016, according to its filing with the Department of Labor, a 2.5 percent decrease over the previous fiscal year; its rank-and-file declined by 16 percent over the past five years. Meanwhile a 59 percent decline in rank-and-file has forced the Wisconsin Education Association Council into a merger with the American Federation of Teachers’ hard-hit affiliate as well as pushed it to sell its sweet headquarters in Madison.

But the problems lie not only with NEA’s state affiliates in right-to-work states. The end of class size reduction regimes in many states, the lingering effects of the last decade’s economic meltdown, the virtual  insolvencies of defined-benefit teachers’ pensions, and the retiring of Baby Boomers from classrooms, has resulted in growth being slim to none for many affiliates.

Rank-and-file numbers for NEA’s still-influential units in Illinois, and Ohio barely budged between 2014-2015 and 2015-2016 — and almost no growth at all for either within the past five years. Rank-and-file numbers for union’s Florida affiliate (which is also affiliated with AFT) barely budged; in fact, membership declined by 5.6 percent between 2011-2012 and 2015-2016.

One of the few bright spots for NEA is its Education Minnesota unit, whose rank-and-file numbers increased by 2.7 percent between 2011-2012 and 2015-2016. But it barely added members during this past fiscal year. If Republicans who just took control of the Land of Nice’s legislature have their way, the union’s ability to forcibly collect dues will eventually go into history’s ashbin. But thanks to the presence of Democrat Mark Dayton in the governor’s office, that’s not likely for now.

The lack of rank-and-file growth is troubling for NEA because the long-term financial woes of many of its affiliates are worsening.

Unfunded defined-benefit pensions and retiree health liabilities have long-damaged the balance sheets of some key affiliates. The union’s Michigan affiliate, for example, reported $296 million in unfunded pension and retiree healthcare liabilities in 2015-2016, a 3.1 percent increase over the previous year. If the affiliate was forced into bankruptcy, its $67 million in assets (a 9.8 percent decline over 2014-2015) couldn’t cover these and other liabilities.

The NEA’s Illinois unit reported $46 million in unfunded pension and other retiree liabilities in 2015-2016, a whopping 44 percent increase over levels in the previous fiscal year. [Its $63 million in overall liabilities is a 25 percent increase over 2014-2015.] If it ever landed in bankruptcy court, the Illinois unit’s $53 million in assets couldn’t cover any of what it owes to retired employees and other creditors. The union’s Pennsylvania State Education Association reported $75 million in pension and retiree health liabilities in 2015-2016, a staggering 37 percent increase over the previous year; the only good news is that the unit’s $102 million in assets can cover those and other liabilities.

Even NEA’s most-influential and wealthiest affiliate, the California Teachers Association, is struggling with pension and healthcare liabilities. In a memo to its staff union CTA revealed that its Retirement Trust has unfunded liabilities to the tune of $105 million. While CTA can cover those shortfalls with $183 million in assets (as of 2013-2014, according to its filing with the Internal Revenue Service), the growth in those liabilities (along with reasonable long-term fears that it will no longer be able to forcibly collect dues from classroom teachers) has forced the affiliate to play hardball with its staff union during its most-recent contract negotiations.

[As Dropout Nation reported last month, the virtually-busted New York State United Teachers (which is an NEA affiliate despite being controlled by AFT) has $503 million in unfunded pension and other retiree healthcare liabilities, a 31 percent increase over 2014-2015.]

For these affiliates, along with three under NEA receivership — Indiana State Teachers Association, Alabama Education, and South Carolina Education Association — the subsidies from NEA are more-welcome than ever.

NEA subsidized WEAC to the tune of $2.1 million in 2015-2016, an 11 percent increase over the previous year; based on the affiliate’s reported revenue of $13.2 million in 2013-2014 (the latest year available), NEA subsidies likely account for 16 percent of its money stream, and given the unit’s flailing finances, likely more than that. NEA also poured $5.5 million in subsidies into its Michigan affiliate, a 15 percent decline over 2014-2015; even with those declines, NEA dollars accounted for 4.9 percent of the unit’s revenue of $111.8 million.

The union subsidized its Illinois affiliate to the tune of $4.5 million in 2015-2016, an 8.2 percent drop from the previous year; the subsidies accounted for six percent of the unit’s revenue of $75.5 million. As for Pennsylvania? NEA provided $5.3 million in subsidies to the unit, barely budging from levels in 2014-2015; those dollars account for 5.2 percent of PSEA’s revenue stream.

What about ISTA? NEA provided $1.3 million in subsidies to the busted Indiana affiliate in 2015-2016, a 24 percent decline from the previous year. ISTA also managed to whittle down its debt to national by another $1 million in the last year, leaving it with $11.5 million in arrears. The national union has subsidized ISTA to the tune of $6.9 million in the last five years alone, not including the millions it has had to pour into the Hoosier State unit since 2009, when its VEBA went insolvent amid a $67 million deficit and spectacular financial mismanagement.

As for NEA national? The union’s defined-benefit pension plan reduced its insolvency by 18 percent to $91 million (as of 2014, the most-recent year reported), according to its annual notice to retirees. The good news is that NEA could liquidate some of its $377 million in assets to address that insolvency if needed. On the other hand, the union’s retiree healthcare trust remains well-funded, with just $55,480 in liabilities compared to $117.6 million in assets (as of 2015, the latest year available, according to its filing with the IRS).

Meanwhile the long-term threats to NEA’s clout and finances loom larger and more-immediate than ever. The union’s big bet on Hillary Clinton to win the presidency blew up badly, while its support for Senate and Congressional Democratic candidates also went pear-shaped. With the incoming administration of Donald Trump being hostile to public-sector unions and an even less-sympathetic Republican-controlled Congress, NEA has even less influence on Capitol Hill than it did two years ago. The institutional Blanche DuBois will have to depend on the kindness of outfits such as National School Boards Association (whose ties to Republicans are cozier thanks to suburban districts in its membership) and that’s not a great place to be.

Trump still has to fill the Supreme Court spot vacated earlier this year through the death of the legendary Antonin Scalia. This likely means that the next justice will finally overturn Abood v. Detroit Board of Education, the five decade-old ruling that allows NEA and AFT affiliates to force teachers to pay into its coffers regardless of their desire for membership. The union likely already expects a version of Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association (which the court shot down in a 4-4 ruling after Scalia’s demise) to work its way through the courts.

Based on the struggles of NEA’s state affiliates in Wisconsin and Michigan, it is clear that neither national nor its other affiliates are ready to adapt to the end of compulsory dues laws and workplace monopolies. The union hasn’t even followed AFT’s steps and hired staffers from the Service Employees International Union, which has long been the nation’s most-successful labor organizer, in order to prepare for the future.

In short, long days ahead for NEA’s guitar-slinging president, Lily Eskelsen Garcia, and the rest of the union’s leadership.

Dropout Nation will provide additional analysis of the NEA’s finances down the road. 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. Also check out Dropout Nation‘s Teachers Union Money Report, for previous reports on NEA and AFT finances.

December 5, 2016 standard

Last week, Dropout Nation detailed how National Education Association spent big to score a major victory over reformers in the battle over the charter school expansion plan contained in Massachusetts’ Question 2. But further analysis of the Big Two teachers’ union’s 2015-2016 disclosure to the U.S. Department of Labor shows, the Bay State wasn’t the only place where NEA spent big — and scored success.

In Maine, for example, NEA poured $1 million into Citizens Who Support Maine’s Public Schools, a coalition including the union’s state affiliate. The group would go on to successfully push for the passage of Question 2, a ballot measure to levy a three percent tax on incomes of greater than $200,000 ostensibly to finance the state’s traditional public schools. [Opponents of the measure are pushing for a recount.] Thanks to NEA, Citizens and its allies outspent opponents of the measure (including Gov. Paul LePage) by $3.6 million ($3.9 million to 286,717.95, according to Ballotpedia), effectively winning the spending — and ultimately, the electoral — battle.

Another big score was in Georgia, where NEA’s state affiliate and traditional districts successfully beat back Amendment 1, Gov. Nathan Deal’s plan have allowed the Peach State to take over 127 failure mills and put them into a statewide district similar to Louisiana’s now-defunct Recovery School District. To help beat back that effort, NEA reported at the end of its fiscal year that it poured $500,000 into Committee to Keep Georgia Schools Local, a coalition featuring NEA’s Georgia Association of Educators and the state branch of AFL-CIO. [NEA also gave $100,000 to GAE in support of opposing the ballot measure.] These dollars, along with another $3.4 million NEA tossed into Keep Georgia’s coffers during the first months of its current fiscal year, and another $200,000 from American Federation of Teachers, helped opponents of Amendment 1 outspend supporters by a 2-to-1 margin ($5.1 million versus $2.6 million).

But not every measure NEA backed was passed at the ballot box. In Oregon, the union poured $350,000 into Yes on 97, which fought to pass a measure levying a 2.5 percent gross receipts tax on businesses generating more than $25 million in annual revenue; NEA gave another $2 million in cash and in-kind donations between September and November, months after the end of its 2015-2016 fiscal year, according to Oregon’s Secretary of State. [AFT, whose nursing and teaching affiliates are big political players in the state, gave $1 million to Yes on 97.] The union also gave $150,000 to one of its longtime vassals in the state, Defend Oregon, which worked with Yes on 97 to push the measure. But on Election Day, voters rejected the proposed tax by 59 percent to 41 percent.

But NEA ballot battles weren’t just about opposing school choice and raising tax revenues that would ultimately contribute to its bottom line. It also worked to support its allies, especially progressive groups and labor unions, in their efforts to increase minimum wages and defend gay rights. Certainly, neither NEA nor its rank-and-file directly benefit one bit from minimum wage increases and the union’s affiliates have proven willing to back anti-gay rights candidates when it suited their purposes. But by supporting those efforts, NEA bolsters its image as a champion for progressives, gay households, and low-income households, even as it fights for policies and practices that ultimately harm the latter two groups by denying their children high-quality education.

While reformers have been successful in building similar alliances with businesses, the movement has recently struggled to extend beyond those relationships to social justice activists and even organizations in rural communities such as Future Farmers of America. In fact, reformers remain split over the simple matter of working with Black Lives Matter and criminal justice reform advocates, whose work on issues affecting the families of poor and minority children should be a natural fit. This struggle is essentially helping NEA and AFT gain allies who should be supporting systemic reform.

Back in Maine, NEA  gave $231,000 to Mainers for Fair Wages, a group that successfully fought to pass a minimum wage increase contained in Question 4. Thanks to NEA’s help, minimum wage advocates can now take credit for increasing hourly wages for low-skilled workers from $7.50 to $12 by 2020.

Another successful effort came in Colorado, where NEA gave $430,000 to Colorado Families for a Fair Wage, a group that successfully pushed for the minimum wage hike contained in Amendment 70. Thanks to the union’s backing, that group successfully convinced voters to support an increase from $8.31 an hour to $12 an hour within the next four years.

Meanwhile in Houston, NEA gave $50,000 to Houston United, which unsuccessfully fought last year for passage of the Texas metropolis’ anti-gay discrimination ordinance. The measure, which was voted down by 61 percent to 39 percent, according to Ballotpedia, generated national controversy after city officials filed subpoenas demanding copies of five sermons given against the ordinance by local clergy, raising fears of religious discrimination that ultimately led to the measure’s defeat.

None of NEA’s big ballot spends are surprising. As Dropout Nation has reported in the past, the union is a big player in supporting state and local ballot initiatives it favors. This includes donations to the progressive Ballot Initiative Strategy Center, to which NEA gave $380,000 in 2015-2016, and has financed to the tune of $1.1 million between 2010-2011 and 2015-2016. NEA also got help from consultancy TrueBallot, to which it paid $21,887 last fiscal year.

NEA took an even bolder step earlier this year when it voted to devote even more money from its Ballot Measure/Emergency Crisis Fund to fight off reform measures on the ballot in Massachusetts and Georgia, as well as support more-favorable initiatives elsewhere. This meant even more spending on political consultants at the state level. This included dropping $254,663 with Blue State Digital, $356,000 with AL Media (the former Adelstein Liston) on various media messaging, and $58,000 on Big Bowl of Ideas (which is known for its work with minimum wage advocates).

As for NEA’s other political spending? The union spent $60,122 with Mack Sumner Communications for political messaging services, $48,750 with Revolution Messaging for digital ads, $502,503 with Angle Mastagni Matthews for a variety of robocalls, $477,088 with Mission Control Inc., on direct mail, and $70,915 with political consultancy 50+1.

NEA’s biggest single spend was on public relations, dropping $6.8 million with ad giant Interpublic Group’s Weber Shandwick. On public relations, the union spent $585,887 with broadcast publicity outfit Lyons Public Relations, bought $245,450 in services from Dewey Square Group, spent $104,994 with Acadia Consulting, and handed over $24,163 to Camino Public Relations for its services. It also spent $11,351 with Agile Education Marketing, spent $127,013 with Elope on promotional gear, and bought $28,500 worth of media training services from Oratorio. For advertising, it spent $407,602 with Hedrush Agency, a firm ran by “cultural curator” Munch Joseph.

As part of its public relations costs, NEA also spent $25,000 with the National Education Writers Association, the group providing training and other services to journalists covering districts and education agencies. A very helpful way to get before reporters and pundits without having to craft a pitch — and another example of how NEA is truly a corporate entity.

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. Also check out Dropout Nation‘s Teachers Union Money Report, for this and other reports on AFT and NEA spending.

December 1, 2016 standard

When it comes to influence-buying, the National Education Association has rarely been especially thoughtful or strategic. The nation’s largest teachers’ union assiduously allies itself with progressive groups, cajoles social justice groups into helping it dress up its agenda, and teams up the notoriously-secretive Democracy Alliance. But it has never been strategic in its spending, especially in focusing on specific cities or states in which locals and affiliates are at risk of losing influence. Nor has it recruited staffers from even-savvier outfits such as the Service Employees International Union. As a result, it has often been less-savvy and less-successful in its gamesmanship than the rival American Federation of Teachers.

But as NEA’s 2015-2016 disclosure to the U.S. Department of Labor, along with campaign finance documents, reveals, the union has stepped up its sophistication in its successful spend against a ballot measure in Massachusetts to expand charter schools.

As you know by now, one of the most-prominent efforts to advance systemic reform fell apart last month when 62 percent of Bay State voters voted down Question 2. Thanks to the defeat, children stuck in failure mills and schools that don’t fit their academic and social needs won’t be able to attend any of the 12 charters that state officials would have been allowed authorize every year.

None of this sat well with reformers who long took for granted that the role of the state’s capital, Boston, as an epicenter and example of successful systemic reform. Given the ideological divide within the movement that has emerged in the past five years, internal finger-pointing, especially from reformers outside the state, is bubbling up. Even before Election Day, Robert Pondiscio, the E.D. Hirsch acolyte who now serves as Thomas B. Fordham Institute President Michael Petrilli’s attack man, complained that centrist Democrat and civil rights-oriented reformers failed to speak the language or address the desires) of suburban voters who saw no point in expanding choice.

Yet no one within the movement paid attention to one of the key reasons behind Question 2’s defeat: The spending, co-opting, and politicking NEA and its Bay State affiliate (along with that of AFT and its locals) did to rally much-needed opposition.

NEA was in a bit of a disadvantage to start. It didn’t have much support for its effort to quash Question 2 from other players among Massachusetts’ labor unions. One possible reason: The expectation that Marty Walsh, the former union leader, charter school founder, and choice advocate who is now Boston’s mayor, would back it. That the measure had strong support from the Bay State’s Republican governor, Charlie Baker, also gave reformers much hope.

But NEA and its Massachusetts Teachers Association had some key advantages going into the political battle — and it started with cold, hard cash. In 2014 and 2015, the NEA affiliate itself spent poured $3 million into its Super-PAC, giving it plenty of money to mount a political onslaught against the measure. More importantly, the union’s strong ties to traditionalist activists on the ground, along with its role as a leading player in Bay State politics, all but ensured that it could rally support against the measure.

Even as the allies such as Hillary Clinton went down to defeat, NEA President Lily Eskelsen Garcia gained one major state-level defensive victory with the defeat of Massachusetts Question 2.

One of the groups: Citizens for Public Schools, a coalition of faith-based groups, old-school education associations, and unions that includes AFT Massachusetts and Boston Teachers Union, as well as longtime vassals of the national NEA’s largesse such as FairTest, the state branch of the NAACP, and the Bay State branch of People for the American Way. Together with Citizens for Public Schools and AFT’s units, MTA formed Save Our Public Schools, which would spearhead opposition from traditionalists and districts (known as school committees in Massachusetts) Question 2.

This is where NEA and its vast coffers came into play. By the end of its 2015-2016 fiscal year, the union plunked down $500,000 into Save Our Public Schools, according to its filing with the Department of Labor. This allowed Save Our Public Schools to put on a scare campaign that featured declarations that Question 2 would cause districts to lose their funding. [Of course, no one opposed to Question 2 considered the ridiculous thinking that districts, along with NEA and AFT affiliates, think they deserve to receive money for children they are no longer serving.]

Over the following months, NEA would leverage its coffers and its Ballot Measure/Emergency Crisis Fun to provide Save Our Public Schools with even more mother’s milk. This included a cash infusion of $3.5 million in October, a month before Election Day, according to the Bay State’s Office of Campaign and Political Finance. Altogether, NEA dumped $5.4 million into Save Our Public Schools, likely its biggest spend on a ballot measure this year. Along with MTA’s $8.4 million in donations, the union accounted for 80 percent of the $17.2 million (including in-kind donations) spent to defeat the measure.

NEA also made sure to provide additional subsidies to MTA. It gave $3.7 million to the Bay State affiliate in 2015-2016, a six percent increase over the previous year. Those dollars were well-deserved. Without MTA and its president, Barbara Madeloni, putting muscle into opposing Question 2, NEA wouldn’t have gained any victory.

As you would expect, AFT and its units also did its part, though it was NEA that did the heavy lifting. The union’s Bay State affiliate dropped $617,949.69 into Save Our Public Schools, while the Boston Teachers Union gave $349,550 to defeat the measure. AFT national dropped $1.7 million into the opposition, as well as contributed $36,115 to the Boston local’s political action committee and $196,506 to that of the state affiliate. More importantly, the union gave financial support to like-minded groups. This included $31,500 to the Boston Youth Organizing Project, $31,250 to Center for Labor Education and Research’s Boston Education Justice Alliance, and $31,250 to Massachusetts Jobs with Justice. All three groups, naturally, endorsed Save Our Public Schools’ fight against Question 2; Jobs with Justice took a step further by contributing $8,000 to Save Our Public Schools.

To tie the effort to expand charters with Wall Street — and win support from progressives who irrationally hate anything tied to capitalism — MTA and AFT Massachusetts filed a complaint with the U.S. Securities & Exchange Commission accusing Baker of backing Question 2 in order to win support from private-equity players who have long been key philanthropists in the school reform movement. The complaint is the epitome of frivolity — the only evidence provided was a commercial the governor did on the referendum — but it was more than enough to give reasons to progressives in the state to turn their backs on children.

All the spending, co-opting and politicking done by NEA and AFT achieved results. By Election Day, reformers lost a potential supporter in Walsh, who took to the pages of the Boston Globe to oppose Question 2. Besides remembering that he runs the traditional district, Walsh also wants to keep his job and doesn’t want to get on the wrong side of the Boston AFT.

Baker’s presence in backing the measure backfired with Bay State Democrats, whose state committee voted to oppose the measure. In the process, the state party, along with U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren and the state’s congressional delegation, effectively went to war against centrist Democrat reformers including the state’s powerful house speaker, Robert DeLeo, as well as former U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and his successor, John King (who founded a charter school in Boston’s Roxbury section).

With all but a few key players within the Democratic machinery opposing Question 2, the measure all but doomed.

The defeat won’t likely stop reformers from working to expand charters. After all, they came close to doing so earlier this year when state senators approved a bill that would have allowed more of them to open in exchange for increased funding for districts. But the defeat at the ballot box, despite outspending NEA and its allies by $9.6 million ($26.8 million versus $17.2 million) hurts reformers to no end. They are now forced to think through how they can build stronger support for school choice, both on the ground and among policymakers who must remember that they depend on NEA and AFT money to keep their phony baloney offices.

As for NEA? The Big Two union’s success in Massachusetts gives it a possible blueprint for beating back reform efforts at the state level, which is especially important in the age of the Every Student Succeeds Act and an incoming Trump Administration and Republican-controlled Congress that will give it less consideration than ever. Whether or not NEA will embrace those lessons — or if they can even be applied in the Republican-dominated states in which most of its affiliates and locals are located — are different questions altogether.

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. Also check out Dropout Nation‘s Teachers Union Money Report, for this and previous reports on NEA spending.

November 30, 2016 standard

Yesterday, National Education Association filed its 2015-2016 financial disclosure with the U.S. Department of Labor — and once again, the nation’s largest teachers’ union spent big to preserve its influence over American public education.

NEA spent $138 million on lobbying and contributions to supposedly likeminded organizations during its last fiscal year. That’s a 5.3 percent increase over influence-buying levels in 2014-2015. This, by the way, doesn’t include another $46.5 million in spending on so-called representational activities, which almost always tend to be political in nature; that’s a 16 percent increase over levels in the previous year.

One of union’s key spends was on its own Super-PAC, NEA Advocacy, which was a key player in the Democratic National Committee’s effort to retain the White House and regain control of the U.S. Senate. It poured $12.2 million into NEA Advocacy in 2015-2016, a 40 percent increase over the $8.7 million given to it during the previous fiscal year. As OpenSecrets notes in its most-recent analysis of the Super-PAC’s finances, NEA funneled most of that money in it to other Super-PACs and 527 committees. This included $300,000 to American Bridge 21st Century (another recipient of NEA funding), and $774,670 to Kentucky Family Values, which unsuccessfully fought to stop Republicans from winning control of the Bluegrass State’s legislature.

As you would also expect, NEA also poured money into Democracy Alliance, the ever-the secretive progressive outfit which has become a major player in national and Democratic Party politics. NEA Executive Director John Stocks chairs the organization’s board of directors. The union gave $1.6 million to the outfit, its Committee on States, and its State Engagement Fund in 2015-2016, a seven-fold increase over the previous fiscal year. Given how poorly Democrats performed this election cycle, you can conclude this was money not well spent.

Meanwhile NEA spent plenty on other outfits within the wider Democracy Alliance network. It poured $200,000 into David Brock’s Media Matters for America, ladled out $225,000 to Progress Now, put $187,654 into the Advancement Project (which has been a partner with NEA and AFT in opposing systemic reform), and handed out $25,000 to longtime beneficiary Netroots Nation. NEA also spent $627,543 with Catalist, LLC, the data-mining outfit for the Democratic National Committee that is a lynchpin in Democracy Alliance’s campaign efforts. Again, in light of Democratic Presidential Nominee Hillary Clinton’s defeat at the hands of Donald Trump this month, NEA may need to reconsider where it spends its cash.

The biggest recipient within the Democracy Alliance network is Center for Popular Democracy, whose board includes American Federation of Teachers President Rhonda (Randi) Weingarten. NEA gave the outfit and its political action fund $591,350 in 2015-2016, a 3.7 percent increase over the previous fiscal year. [AFT itself gave the outfit $373,000 during its last fiscal year.] That’s more money to help NEA and AFT in their effort to oppose the expansion of public charter schools and other forms of choice.

Meanwhile NEA continued to co-opt progressive and social justice groups in its effort to defend the policies and practices that finance its operations. For NEA, the dollar amounts to each group can often be small compared to its annual revenue. But for the recipient groups, many of which are always cash-strapped and dependent on the kindness of bigger players, the dollars often influence the direction of their advocacy. Why? Because philanthropic groups and unions such as NEA prefer to finance programmatic activities such as advocacy rather than subsidize the organization’s administrative and other back-office operations; often, programmatic staff will keep their jobs even as nonprofits lay off other staff. As a result, NEA can ensure that its vassals do its bidding.

The union doled out $140,000 to Center for Media and Democracy, the outfit behind PR Watch and ALEC Watch, the latter of which is likely favored by the union since it focuses on the conservative state policymaking outfit. It also gave $100,000 to the Progressive Inc, the parent of the news outlet that counts Jeff Bryant of Campaign for America’s Future (a longtime NEA dependent) and Julian Vasquez-Heilig among its contributors. That’s plenty enough for freelance fees to put into the pockets of Bryant, Vasquez-Heilig and their fellow-travelers. The union also handed another $50,000 to Independent Media Institute, the parent of progressive media outlet Alternet.

The union gave $148,800 to Change Corps, which provides training to progressive activists, provided $65,000 to the Tides Foundation’s Advocacy Fund, and handed off $35,000 to the Opportunity Institute. NEA also gave $75,000 to Convergence Center for Policy Resolution, and $25,000 to Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

NEA put $550,000 into Sixteen Thirty Fund, a endowment developed by former Clinton Administration mandarin Eric Kessler’s Arabella Advisors. NEA also gave $62,657 to New Venture Fund, another outfit with ties to Kessler. Working to stop efforts by reformers and pension reform advocates to address virtually-insolvent retirement plans, NEA also gave $160,000 to National Public Pension Coalition. The union put $397,500 into America Votes, the progressive group whose “partners” include AFT and Center for Popular Democracy’s action fund; handed $135,000 to Campaign for America’s Future; ladled $100,000 to Corporate Action Network; and gave $50,000 to New York Communities for Change, a longtime beneficiary of rival union AFT’s largesse.

NEA even gave $125,000 to Center for American Progress — even though it is one of the foremost players in the school reform movement. It helps that the latter is key to the Democracy Alliance network of nonprofits and political action outfits.

For the first time in two years, NEA didn’t give any money to Schott Foundation for Public Education and its political action fund. Given how little mileage the union got from working with the once-respectable advocate for transforming education for young black men, it’s probably for the best. Rev. Al Sharpton’s National Action Network, Jesse Jackson’s Rainbow/PUSH Coalition, and old-school civil rights group NAACP (which managed to garner publicity favorable to union with its resolution calling for a moratorium on the expansion of charters) also didn’t collect a check from NEA for the first time in quite a while.

Meanwhile NEA worked on co-opting other minority advocacy groups. It gave $65,000 to the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation, the philanthropic arm of the coalition of African-American members of Congress; put $94,000 into the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute, which serves the same role for Latino members; and gave $15,000 to MALDEF. The union also gave $20,000 to Institute for Asian Pacific American Leadership and Advancement, and put $5,000 into National Council on Educating Black Children. Building ties with gay, lesbian and transgender activist groups, NEA gave $50,000 to Human Rights Campaign, and $50,000 to Gay Lesbian and Straight Education Network.

It even managed to give $50,000 to Smithsonian Institution for the newly-opened National Museum of African-American History and Culture. That was a very smart thing to do, one that some reformers should have also done.

Meanwhile NEA is looking to build support among teachers and families for its agenda. It gave$12,460 to the National Network of State Teachers of the Year, allowing the union to take advantage of the popularity of teachers (and avoid the general disdain toward it and AFT). Another $36,700 was given to the National Teacher Hall of Fame, while $86,242 went to Institute for Education Leadership. Meanwhile NEA gave $150,000 to Parents Together Action, an outfit that is attempting to co-opt the Parent Power movement; while it put down $61,031 to Parent Teacher Home Visit Project.

As for the usual suspects: NEA gave $50,000 to FairTest (also known as National Center for Fair and Open Testing), the leading outfit in opposing the use of standardized tests, the data from which can be used in evaluating the teachers in NEA’s rank-and-file. It also gave $250,000 to the National Education Policy Center through the University of Colorado-Boulder’s foundation. It provided $398,000 to National Board for Professional Teaching Standards; poured $397,036 into Council for Accreditation of Educator Preparation, the group that represents the nation’s woeful university schools of education; put $395,120 into Barnett Berry’s Center for Teaching Quality; and handed off $275,000 to the Republican Main Street Partnership and its Main Street Advocacy Fund.

NEA gave $250,000 to Economic Policy Institute, while handing $100,000 to its other go-to research ally, Great Lakes Center for Education Research and Practice. The union also gave $114,000 to Learning First Alliance, and put $150,227 into Education Law Center.

What about NEA’s top brass? The union’s president, Lily Eskelsen Garcia, collected $512,504 in 2015-2016, a 23 percent increase over the previous year; she can get herself some new Gretsch Chet Atkins. Her number two, Becky Pringle, was paid $434,738, a 17 percent increase; while Secretary-Treasurer Princess Moss pulled in $436,423, a 1.5 percent gain. Altogether, NEA’s top three leaders collected $1.4 million in 2015-2016, a 17 percent increase over the previous fiscal year.

As we say at Dropout Nation, there is nothing wrong with NEA leaders drawing six-figure sums. But the high salaries (and the corporate ways the NEA and the AFT engage in their defense of traditionalist policies and thinking) should be kept in mind any time Eskelsen Garcia and AFT counterpart Weingarten use class warfare rhetoric to oppose systemic reform of American public education.

As for the union’s staff? Some 403 staffers (out of 556 on the payroll) were paid six-figure sums in 2015-2016; that’s eight more than in the previous fiscal year. One person collecting big checks is Stocks, whose being an NEA staffer is lucrative work. Whether the teachers who are often forced by compulsory dues laws to pay those salaries are benefiting is a different story. $469,501 in compensation is 15.3 percent higher than in 2014-2015. The union’s general counsel, Alice O’Brien, picked up $255,603, a 5.3 percent increase over the previous year; while top lobbyist Marcus Egan collected $193,407, a 6.3 percent increase. As always, being an NEA staffer is lucrative. Whether the teachers, often forced by compulsory dues laws to pay those salaries, are benefiting is an open question.

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. Also check out Dropout Nation‘s Teachers Union Money Report, for this and previous reports on AFT and NEA spending.