Tag: National Education Association

NYSUT’s $544 Million Financial Problem

Over the past few months, New York State United Teachers got a lot of flack over the fact that its now-former Secretary-Treasurer, Martin Messner, was still teaching in the classroom…

Over the past few months, New York State United Teachers got a lot of flack over the fact that its now-former Secretary-Treasurer, Martin Messner, was still teaching in the classroom even as he also oversaw its woeful finances. Of course in reality, Messner had spent most of his three-year tenure as the union’s financial overlord at its headquarters in the Albany suburbs, and only began teaching again this past September after his leave-of-absence expired. [There’s also the presence of an actual staff of finance people who do the day-to-day work of balancing books.] But that brief period of double duty made for some laughs at the union’s expense.

The reality of the union’s financial condition, however, is not a laughing matter. As a Dropout Nation analysis of its latest filing with the U.S. Department of Labor shows, the union’s pension and retiree healthcare woes continue to keep it in virtual insolvency.

NYSUT reported that it accrued $544 million in pension and retiree health liabilities in 2016-2017, a 7.9 percent increase over levels in the previous year. While the union reported that pension liabilities decreased by 13.4 percent (from $288 million in 2015-2016 to $249 million in 2016-2017), retiree healthcare costs increased by 36.5 percent, from $215 million to $294 million within the same period.

As you would expect, NYSUT doesn’t have enough assets to cover those insolvencies. The union’s pension had $285 million in assets as of 2016, according to its filing with the U.S. Department of Labor. If you took that number, that still leaves $259 million in retiree pension and healthcare costs (along with other liabilities on the books), none of which would be fully covered by NYSUT’s $142 million in assets.

As with defined-benefit pensions run by states, districts, and the National Education Association (to which NYSUT is affiliated along with its status as the largest state unit of the American Federation of Teachers), NYSUT’s pension assumes an overly optimistic annual investment rate of return of 6.5 percent. Even in years in which those numbers can be made, NYSUT’s generous retirement age levels, under which an employee can head into retirement as young as age 55 with 10 years of service, adds additional strain onto finances.

The good news for NYSUT is that it is having greater success than other AFT and NEA affiliates in increasing rank-and-filers paying into its coffers. It added 35,381 rank-and-filers in 2016-2017, increasing its ranks by 5.4 percent to 686,975. This included a 7.2 percent increase in the number of classroom teachers and other school employees as well as a 2.6 percent increase in the number of retirees paying dues.

Former NYSUT Secretary-Treasurer Martin Messner got laughed at for both running the union’s finances while briefly teaching school. But the AFT affiliate’s woes are no laughing matter.

As a result of those increases, NYSUT generated $138 million in dues in 2016-2017, a 3.8 percent increase over the previous year. Overall revenue was $260 million, barely budging from last year. As you would expect, national AFT made sure to subsidize the affiliate; the $10.4 million it paid to NYSUT in 2016-2017 was 11.9 percent less than in the previous period. NEA provided $2.1 million last fiscal year, slightly less than in 2015-2016. NYSUT collected $1.8 million from its Teaching & Learning Trust, slightly more than in 2015-2016, while it garnered $6.6 million from its Member Benefits affiliate (which peddles annuities to the rank-and-file), a 5.7 percent decline.

The union did manage to hold the line on expenses. General overhead expenses of $6.4 million in 2016-2017 were three percent lower than in the previous period, while benefits costs of $43 million were just 1.4 percent higher than a year ago. As a result, NYSUT generated a surplus of $13 million, 8.5 percent lower than in 2015-2016.

Of course, NYSUT’s top honchos did fine for themselves. Andrew Pallotta, the ally of United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew who now runs NYSUT, collected $273,153 in 2016-2017, a 5.3 percent increase over the previous period. His predecessor (or, to be more-appropriate, former puppet) Karen Magee walked away with $346,080 in compensation, a 17.4 percent increase over 2015-2016. The aforementioned Messner was paid $285,684 in 2016-2017, an 11 percent increase over his compensation in the previous period. As for Executive Director Thomas Anapolis? He was paid $180,004, a 27 percent decrease over 2015-2016.

NYSUT has no interest in paying down its pension and retiree health liabilities. But it does have plenty of desire to buy influence. The union spent $97.4 million in 2016-2017 on on lobbying, contributions to like-minded groups and spending on almost-always political “representational activities”. That’s lower than the $99.6 it spent in the previous year.

The union gave $30,000 to Alliance for Quality Education, one of its longstanding vassals, in 2016-2017. That’s less than half what NYSUT doled out to the group in the previous year. NYSUT gave another of its dependents, Citizen Action of New York, even less; the $28,500 it gave to the group is 53.1 percent less than what was given in 2015-2016. The union doubled its giving to Education Law Center, handing over $100,000 in 2016-2017, while giving $250,000 to Strong Economy for All Coalition, unchanged from the previous period. NYSUT also made sure to give Labor-Religion Coalition of New York State $111,000 last fiscal year, an 11 percent increase over 2015-2016.

Advertising and messaging were the big spends for NYSUT. The union spent $296,315 with Visuality on social media efforts, dropped $21,950 on ads with Facebook, bought $5,152 worth of ads on Twitter, and put down $19,800 on ad space with Politico‘s Pro magazine to reach politicians and other players. The union spent another $84,565 on outdoor ads and public relations. Another $146,732 was spent on commercials with five outlets — public radio stations WAMC, WYNC and WXXI, as well as television stations WNYT and WWNY, which are dominate players in Upstate New York. NYSUT spent $39,150 with NGP Van, and dropped another $23,975 with Catalist, both key to the efforts of Democratic Party players.

Meanwhile NYSUT made sure to subsidize the UFT, the New York City local of AFT which effectively controls the state affiliate. NYSUT financed UFT to the tune of $14.5 million in 2016-2017, a 6.5 percent decrease from the previous period. UFT also owes NYSUT $10.8 million in accounts receivable, of which $4 million has been due for the past 90-t0-180 days. Too bad NYSUT isn’t doing much for the local in East Ramapo, whose district has been beset by a regime focused on damaging the futures of the kind of poor and minority children the union and its national parents claim to proclaim concern. The local there only received $17,240 in 2016-2017, less than the meager $17,732 it got in the previous period.

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.

Featured photo: Andrew Pallotta (left, with United Federation of Teachers player Shelvy Young-Abraham and AFT President Randi Weingarten), now runs NYSUT all on his own.

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NEA Loses Money

As Dropout Nation readers already know, losing money and financial woes has tended to be the norm for a good number of National Education Association’s affiliates. The Big Two teachers’…

As Dropout Nation readers already know, losing money and financial woes has tended to be the norm for a good number of National Education Association’s affiliates. The Big Two teachers’ union’s affiliates in Michigan, Illinois, and Wisconsin, along with the affiliate it controls with American Federation of Teachers in New York, have been virtually-insolvent for years thanks to unfunded defined-benefit pension liabilities, underfunded employee healthcare costs, and loss of rank-and-filers who pay the bills.

But NEA has managed to stave off such losses — until now. An analysis of its latest financial report reveals that the nation’s largest teachers’ union lost money in its last fiscal year. This can be blamed on several proverbial paper cuts that may get worse is a Supreme Court ruling hits its finances and ability to preserve influence.

NEA  lost $662,383 in 2016-2017, according to its filing with the U.S. Department of Labor. This is versus a $1.4 million surplus in 2015-2016, and a whopping $27 million surplus in 2014-2015. The loss is small compared to that of many of its affiliates (including the $4.7 million loss suffered by its Michigan unit and a $1.5 million loss for its Ohio division). But it may be a harbinger of problems to come for the national union.

One reason for the loss: A 15.6 percent increase in benefits costs (from $54 million in 2015-2016 to $63 million in 2016-2017). Contributions to NEA’s retiree healthcare trust, which covers health benefits, doubled from $7.5 million in 2015-2016 to $15.8 million in 2016-2017. The healthcare trust’s liabilities increased by 25.8 percent over the past year (from $193 million in 2014 to $243 million in 2015), according to its most-recent form 5500 filing; it only has $117 million in assets available to cover those costs if it had to close shop today.

A 6.7 percent increase in pension payments (from $20.7 million to $21.1 million) has also added to the union’s fiscal burdens. These cost increases offset a 4.3 percent decline in general overhead and 5.8 percent decrease in union administration costs. Considering that the pension expects benefit payouts to increase by 16.5 percent (from $58 million to $68 million) between 2018 and 2025, NEA’s own pension costs will increase dramatically. Especially since the pension itself is in bad shape. It doesn’t have enough assets to cover $140 million in unfunded liabilities — and it has at least $21 million in unfunded commitments to hedge funds and other private-equity investments, according to the plan’s filing with the Department of Labor. The $140 million in unfunded liabilities, by the way, is a 54 percent increase over insolvency levels in 2014.

None of this is surprising to NEA’s own staffers. Last year, the National Staff Organization, which represents the union’s workers, announced that a memorandum of understanding with NEA over fully funding the pension was suspended because “troubling challenges have developed that are making it more difficult to reach full funding by December 31, 2021”. The challenges that plague defined-benefit pensions run by states and districts that NEA wants to keep in place and keep effective control over — including overly optimistic rates of return on investments and the decline in current workers paying into the plan compared to retirees — are also a problem for the union itself.

Of course, as with AFT, NEA now offers its own defined-contribution plan, which has some $172 million in assets. But the defined-benefit pension’s woes will loom over the union’s finances for decades to come.

Meanwhile NEA isn’t growing its rank-and-file numbers enough to offset these costs. The union added 18,985 rank-and-filers and agency fee payers to its ranks in 2016-2017, according to its disclosure to the U.S. Department of Education. That equates to an anemic six-tenths of one percent increase over levels during the previous year. Anemic as those numbers are, at least NEA can say that it has increased its ranks for a second consecutive year.

Much of that growth can be credited to NEA’s joint affiliate with AFT in Florida, the Florida Education Association. Rank-and-file numbers increased by 2.8 percent (from 128,485 in 2015-2016 to 132,055 in 2016-2017). Another growing affiliate: The Ohio Education Association, which increased its rank-and-file by 1.4 percent (from 121,782 to 123,453). Growth for both affiliates offset nonexistent increases for other affiliates as well as the continued woes of NEA’s Wisconsin unit and the Michigan Education Association (whose rank-and-file numbers declined by 2.8 percent over the same period). Thanks in part to the growth, NEA collected $370 million in dues last fiscal year. That’s a nine-tenths of one percent increase over 2015-2016.

But trouble looms over the horizon. If the U.S. Supreme Court strikes down compulsory dues laws (and the ability of NEA and other public sector unions to force employees to pay into its coffers even if they don’t want to) as expected in Janus v. AFSCME, the union and its affiliates will lose big. Based on earlier analysis, Dropout Nation determines that NEA could lose at least 25 percent of rank-and-filers, or 768,710 teachers and other school employees. That would equate to a $92.5 million decline in dues payments, which would cripple the union’s ability to finance its influence-buying.

This reality is one reason why NEA is already advising affiliates and locals to come up with new schemes to keep the dues flowing even if compulsory dues laws are struck down. This includes forcing rank-and-filers to sign membership renewal documents that will allow affiliates to automatically deduct from payrolls for years to come unless they opt out in writing; this is being done by the union’s Education Minnesota affiliate. Other affiliates may try to write similar agreements into collective bargaining agreements, a tactic tried by the Michigan affiliate that was struck down by state courts a few years ago.

Of course, none of these steps have anything to do with actually providing services that teachers need in order to do their jobs, something that NEA and its affiliates should be doing in the first place. The fact that teachers mostly contact their locals for help when necessary means that in many cases, the locals could simply cut out NEA national (along with the state affiliates) and operate on their own. The NEA affiliate in Clark County, Nevada, which has had woes related to its busted voluntary employee benefits association, may end up being one of the first of many locals that leave the NEA fold; the union’s former Memphis local did so earlier this year.

As for overall revenues: NEA generated $385 million in 2016-2017, a slight drop over revenue levels in same period last year. One reason for the decline: A 33 percent decline in dividends it collected from its investment portfolio (from $1.5 million in 2015-2016 to a $970,223 last fiscal year). Mike Antonucci goes into detail about NEA’s investments in Corporate America. But it suffices to say that it could do better on that front.

Another factor in NEA’s revenue decline: NEA Member Benefits, the financial scheme the union runs to peddle annuities to its rank-and-file and get kickbacks from Wall Street. NEA collected just $2.3 million from Member Benefits in 2016-2017, a 72 percent decline from the previous year. [As for NEA Member Benefits?It generated $97 million in 2016, a 1.4 percent decrease over revenue in the previous year, according to its tax filing with the Internal Revenue Service; while it continued to sell annuities at a brisk pace, the decline can be attributed to a 19.6 percent decline in investment income.]

The good news for NEA’s staffers is that the leaders took pay cuts. The union’s president, Lily Eskelsen Garcia, collected $348,732 in 2016-2017, a 47 percent decrease over compensation levels in the previous year. Garcia’s second-in-command, Becky Pringle, took home just $331,022, a 24 percent decline in pay. Princess Moss, who oversees NEA’s finances, was paid $310,841, a 29 percent decline over last year. Altogether, the union’s top three leaders took home $990,595, considerably less than the top three leaders at the rival AFT.

The union also had 384 staffers earning six-figure sums, a decrease from the 403 top-paid staffers on board in 2015-2016. Executive Director John Stocks collected $375,942, a 20 percent decline from 2015-2016, while Alice O’Brien, the union’s general counsel, picked up $257,266 in 2016-2017, slightly more than in the previous period. Michael McPherson, NEA’s Chief Financial Officer, was paid $285,360, a 1.3 percent decrease over 2015-2016, while Jim Testerman, who is in charge of organizing and increasing rank-and-file for the union, was paid $257,948, a slight decline over last year.

But not everyone took a hit to their wallets. Marcus Egan, NEA’s chief lobbyist, got a raise; he was paid $208,702 in 2016-2017, a 7.9 percent increase over the previous year. Rocio Inclan-Rodgriguez, the senior director in charge of the union’s efforts to portray itself as a social justice group (and co-opt progressive and old-school civil rights groups), also got a raise. She was compensated to the tune of $259,250 last fiscal year, an 11 percent increase over the previous period.

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 and AFT spending.

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NEA’s $151 Million Influence Spree

The National Education Association just filed its 2016-2017 financial disclosure with the U.S. Department of Labor — and it is clear that the nation’s largest teachers’ union is spending even…

The National Education Association just filed its 2016-2017 financial disclosure with the U.S. Department of Labor — and it is clear that the nation’s largest teachers’ union is spending even more to maintain its influence in education policy. Whether or not it benefits the teachers who are often forced to pay into its coffers is a different story.

The Big Two union spent $151 million on lobbying and contributions to supposedly likeminded organizations during its last fiscal year. That’s a 9.4 increase over influence-buying levels in 2015-2016. This, by the way, doesn’t include another $43.7 million in spending on so-called representational activities in 2016-2017, which almost always tend to be political in nature; that’s six percent less than in the previous period.

As you would expect, NEA put a lot of cash into its Advocacy Fund, the Super-PAC that is part of the union’s effort to back Congressional Democrats. It put $7 million into Advocacy Fund in 2016-2017, a 35.8 percent decrease over the previous year. Given that this an election year, the lower levels of funding isn’t shocking. But you can expect NEA to pour even more money into the Super-PAC next fiscal year — if the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Janus v. AFSCME doesn’t short-circuit those plans first.

The union also spent big on last year’s Democratic National Convention, lobbying delegates and others as they formalized Hillary Clinton’s since-unsuccessful campaign for the presidency. It spent $525,004 in 2016-2017. This included handing $50,000 to the Atlantic Monthly (which was criticized by reformers back in September for receiving money from the American Federation of Teachers), as well as spending $46,000 with pollster Anzalone Liszt Grove Research.

Meanwhile NEA gave $100,000 to Majority Forward, a 501(c)4 affiliated with the Senate Majority PAC, the Super-PAC controlled by J.B. Poesch, a former head of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and ally of Minority Leader Charles Schumer. It also dropped$100,000 into the coffers of Patriot Majority, another Super-PAC that backs Democratic candidates for the House and Senate. Both donations were made in September 2016, two months before the general election.

Given how poorly Clinton and the Democrats fared last year, the spending didn’t yield any immediate results. But NEA will continue to give. This includes pouring $500,000 into Main Street Advocacy Fund, the affiliate of Republican Main Street Partnership that has been one of its most-important vassals.

While NEA failed miserably at the national level, it spent $11.1 million on ballot initiatives with some success.

The union gave $4.9 million in 2016-2017 to Save Our Public Schools, the Massachusetts coalition run by its Bay State affiliate and its longtime vassal, Citizens for Public Schools, that defeated Question 2, the ballot measure that would have expanded the number of public charter schools in the state. This came on top of the $500,000 NEA gave the committee in the previous year. As Dropout Nation detailed last year, the defeat of Question 2 was a solid victory for the union and its fellow traditionalists while reformers reeled from the loss. NEA also gave $4.2 million in 2016-2017 to Committee to Keep Georgia Schools Local, a coalition featuring NEA’s Georgia Association of Educators that defeated Gov. Nathan Deal’s plan to allow the Peach State to take over 127 failure mills and put them into a statewide district. That was on top of the $500,000 the union gave in the previous fiscal year.

In Maine, NEA gave $1.3 million to Citizens Who Support Maine’s Public Schools, a coalition including the union’s state affiliate; this was on top of the $1 million the union gave to the group in 2015-2016. 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 provide $320 million in new funding to the state’s traditional public schools. But that victory was short lived. Last July, after a three-day shutdown of the state government Gov. Paul LePage convinced legislators to repeal Question 2 and replace it with a plan to provide just $160 million a year in new funding.

Meanwhile NEA gave $225,000 to Educators for Washoe Schools, a group led by its local there that successfully won a ballot measure to levy a half-penny sales tax for new school buildings. The union also burnished its efforts to co-opt progressive groups by giving $350,000 to Arizonans for Fair Wages and Healthy Families, a coalition that featured its Copper State affiliate; it successfully pushed for the passage of Proposition 206, which increased the state’s minimum wage from $8.05 an hour to $12 by 2020, as well as provide mandatory sick leave for all employees.

But the union’s efforts didn’t succeed everywhere. In Oregon, it poured $2 million into Yes on 97, which failed to pass a ballot measure that would have levied a gross sales tax on businesses selling more than $25 million in products annually, as well as allowed the state to collect gross sales taxes on business producing more than $100,000 in revenue a year. AFT, whose teachers’ and nursing affiliates are also big players in the state, also put $1 million into the unsuccessful effort. NEA also failed in Oklahoma, where the $750,000 it gave to Oklahoma’s Children Our Future, which unsuccessfully pushed Question 779, which would have levied a one percent sales tax for additional school funding.

Back on the national level, NEA still spent plenty to co-opt progressive groups. Whether it will work in the long haul — or even if the union can keep up the donations — is an open question.

A big recipient of the NEA’s largesse is the Center for Popular Democracy, a reliable ally in the efforts of the union and the rival American Federation of Teachers in opposing the expansion of public charter schools. It collected $1.1 million from NEA in 2016-2017, double the levels the union gave it in the previous year. This increase isn’t a surprise; besides doing the bidding of traditionalists, Center for Popular Democracy is also a favored recipient of the ever-secretive Democracy Alliance, the outfit chaired by NEA Executive Director John Stocks.

NEA also gave $1.1 million to America Votes, another outfit in the Democracy Alliance network that was cofounded by former Service Employees International Union President Andy Stern. That’s 177 percent more than what the union gave to the outfit in 2015-2016. Of course, it helps to be part of Democracy Alliance as well as count on “partners” such as AFT and the aforementioned Center for Popular Democracy.

NEA made sure to give Democracy Alliance some coin. The union gave it $185,772 while handing another $25,000 to its Committee on States, and $300,000 to the State Engagement Fund. Altogether, NEA gave $510,772 to Democracy Alliance, one-third less than in 2015-2016. Apparently, the union isn’t exactly enthused by the outfit’s lack of results.

As for the rest of the Democracy Alliance network? NEA gave $200,000 to David Brock’s Media Matters for America, unchanged from levels in 2015-2016; $150,000 to the Advancement Project (which helped NEA and AFT in its effort to eviscerate the No Child Left Behind Act) in 2016-2017, slightly less than in the previous year; $150,000 to Progress Now (a 33 percent decrease over 2015-2016); $50,000 to State Innovation Exchange; and $25,000 to Netroots Nation, unchanged from last year. NEA also spent $572,282 with Catalist, LLC, the data-mining outfit for the Democratic National Committee that is a lynchpin in Democracy Alliance’s campaign efforts; that’s 8.8 percent less than in 2015-2016.

On the progressive media front, NEA gave $50,000 to Independent Media Institute, the parent of Alternet; and $50,000 to Center for Media and Democracy, the outfit behind PR Watch and ALEC Watch. The biggest recipient: Race Forward, the parent of Colorlines, which has garnered criticism from reformers for its rather unfavorable commentary on the movement. NEA gave it $155,780. It is also a new recipient of the union’s largesse.

NEA Executive Director John Stocks is learning the hard way that the union’s pay-to-play efforts are yielding few (and scattershot) results.

As for other progressive groups? NEA gave $1.3 million in 2016-2017 to Sixteen Thirty Fund, a endowment developed by former Clinton Administration mandarin Eric Kessler’s Arabella Advisors; that’s more than double the amount it ladled out to the outfit in the previous year. It also gave $300,000 to State Engagement Fund, an outfit run by Anne Bartley, another former Clinton Administration staffer and stepdaughter of one of Bill Clinton’s predecessors as Arkansas governor, Winthrop Rockefeller. It also gave $250,000 to Center for American Progress, which is a reform-oriented outfit, but has been helping traditionalists oppose the expansion of vouchers, a key tool of expanding school choice. The union gave $50,000 to Proteus Action League, an affiliate of Proteus Fund which has played small roles in ballot measures in California, Nebraska and Maine; $50,000 to Tides Foundation’s Advocacy Fund; and $10,000 to State Voices, a coalition of 20 organizations dedicated to voter registration drives and other mobilization activities.

It gave $150,000 to Progressive Leaders State Committee; $50,000 to Good Jobs First (also an AFT vassal); $50,000 to the Chicago-based Community Justice for Youth Institute; $25,000 to  economist Dean Baker’s Center for Economic and Policy Research; and $5,000 to Cornell University’s Center for Transformative Action. It also gave $250,000 to Corporate Action Network, a division of the Action Network Fund that aims to “address the imbalance of power between corporations and people” by allying itself with outfits such as NEA, which are just as powerful.

Meanwhile NEA gave plenty to old-school civil rights groups and self-styled outfits willing to do its bidding.

The biggest recipient among that group was Schott Foundation for Public Education’s Opportunity to Learn Action Fund. NEA gave it $125,000 in 2016-2017; it received nothing from the union in the previous year. The union also gave $50,300 to the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation, gaining access to top congressional leaders as well as other influencers at its annual conference. Meanwhile NEA gave $75,000 to NAACP; the better for the once-respectable civil rights outfit to continue opposing the expansion of charters and other school choice options Black families desire. It also gave $25,000 to National Urban League, which is far less reliable.

NEA also gave $25,000 to the U.S. Hispanic Leadership Institute, $20,000 to National Council on Black Civic Participation, $10,000 to National Center for Transgender Equality, $10,000 to Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, and $25,800 to Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture. Reaching out to immigration reform groups opposing the Trump Administration’s efforts to deport undocumented emigres, NEA gave $50,000 to National Immigration Law Center. It also handed out $35,000 to United We Dream, which works on behalf of the 760,000 undocumented immigrant children, youth, and adults (including 20,000 teachers) who may be deported thanks to the administration’s move in September to end Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals.

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. The union gave FairTest the same amount in 2015-2016. NEA made sure to pay off Kevin Welner’s National Education Policy Center, sending $250,000 to the outfit in 2016-2017 through the University of Colorado-Boulder’s foundation; that’s also unchanged from last year.

NEA also handed $408,659 to Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation, the group that represents the nation’s woeful university schools of education; provided $124,300 to National Board for Professional Teaching Standards; gave $527,542 to Barnett Berry’s Center for Teaching Quality; and handed out $225,000 to the ever-dependable Great Lakes Center for Education Research and Practice. NEA gave $68,400 to Learning First Alliance, and $100,000 to Education Law Center.

Again, it’s good to be NEA. For now. For the teachers who pay into it, often thanks to the compulsory dues laws the union defends, it may not be so good.

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 and AFT spending.

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AFT’s and NEA’s Soft Bigotry Against Minority Children

America’s public school teaching workforce is mostly-White and nearly all female. Many of them live in suburbia — even when they teach in urban districts. Even when they do live…

America’s public school teaching workforce is mostly-White and nearly all female. Many of them live in suburbia — even when they teach in urban districts. Even when they do live in urban districts, many of them either use school choice clauses in collective bargaining agreements to get first dibs on schools that don’t have Black or Latino children in them, or just send their kids to private schools to avoid the failure mills they themselves work in.

While many teachers are progressive politically, this is not true of everyone in the profession. As seen three years ago in New York City, when teachers angry at the American Federation of Teachers’ Big Apple unit for supporting efforts against police brutality wore t-shirts in support of police, not all are all that concerned with criminal justice reforms that would help improve the lives of the poor and minority children they teach. And unlike the two unions that represent them (often not of their own choosing), those teachers aren’t necessarily loyal to the Democratic National Committee. Even American Federation of Teachers President Rhonda (Randi) Weingarten conceded last year that one in five of its rank-and-file voted for Donald Trump.

Considering these realities, it is little wonder why Steve Bannon, the White Supremacist who helped Trump win the presidency last year and served as his aide before flaming out this past August, wanted (and managed to score) a meeting with Weingarten last March. Nor is it shocking that Weingarten came away rather impressed by  his political acumen. Because she, along with Lily Eskelsen Garcia of the National Education Association, knows all too well that far too many teachers in American public education are racially myopic. And that her union protects them.

Certainly reformers can point to the instances of outright bigotry by teachers and school leaders within the past year. This includes Cammie Rone, who was suspended in September by the Panola district in Mississippi after writing a Facebook rant that demanded that Black people should “move back to Africa” if they are dissatisfied with the legacies of bigotry that still perplex America today. It also includes an as-yet identified teacher at Cliffside Park High School in New Jersey who was caught on Snapchat last month berating her (English-speaking) Latino students, proclaiming that soldiers “are not fighting for your right to speak Spanish.” The incident led to students at the school, which is in a district in which one-third of students are Latino, walking out in protest.

Certainly most teachers aren’t outright bigots. There are myriad teachers who do well by all children every day and deserve our praise as well as respect. But far too many poor and minority children are subjected by far too many instructional professionals to educational abuse and neglect. And it extends beyond those few public instances.

Over the past few months, a litany of studies have once again proven that White teachers are less likely to have high expectations for Black children (and therefore, less likely to provide them high-quality instruction) than their White peers. Just 24 percent of White teachers expected their Black students to finish high school and higher education, according to a 2017 study led by Seth Gershenson of American University and Nicholas Papageorge of Johns Hopkins University. Those low expectations contribute to low educational attainment by poor and minority children.

This racial myopia (and outright bigotry) toward poor and minority children also manifests in the overuse of out-of-school suspensions and other forms of harsh traditional school discipline. As Adam Wright of University of California, Santa Barbara determined in a 2015 study, beliefs among White teachers that Black children are unruly and poorly-behaved explain why they are more-likely to be referred for discipline and suspended than their White peers. Black children taught by Black teachers were 28 percent-to-38 percent less-likely to be suspended than if taught by White teachers.

Not only does Wright’s study bear out three decades of research on overuse of discipline (including those than control for socioeconomic status), it even proves Vanderbilt Professor Daniel J. Reschly’s assertion about the role of teacher beliefs (and misinterpretation of data) in the overidentification of Black and other minority children as special ed cases. Which is why your editor isn’t surprised by today’s news out of California that even with aggressive reforms on the school discipline front there, out-of-school suspensions were meted out to 9.8 percent of Black children, a rate three times higher than that for their White schoolmates.

Certainly the educational abuse of Black children are reflective of failures in school leadership within states and traditional districts. This is a point Dropout Nation continues to make in its Rationing Opportunity and Beyond Ferguson collections. But teachers do the work in classrooms, and as data continues to show, have the greatest impacts on student achievement, especially in areas such as math. More-importantly, because the quality of teaching varies more within schools (from classroom to classroom) than among them, the racial myopia of teachers (and their low expectations for the poor and minority children in their care) are matters that have to be addressed in order to help all children succeed.

This includes overhauling how we recruit teachers, ensuring that they care for every child regardless of background as well as have the subjective-matter competency needed to educate them properly. It also includes giving districts and other school operators the ability to remove those in the classroom who don’t belong there.

Those transformations, however, are opposed by AFT and NEA. For all their talk about opposing the bigotry of the likes of Bannon and Trump — as well as their participation efforts such as the new Education Civil Rights Alliance funded in part by the Ford Foundation — the Big Two unions end up aiding and abetting the kinds of soft and hard bigotries associated with the likes of them.

The Big Two continue to support the nation’s university schools of education, which have demonstrably proven ineffective in recruiting teachers both empathetic to all children and competent in their instruction. AFT, in particular, gave $71,410 to Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation, the organization that defends the poor practices of ed schools, during its 2017 fiscal year.

The Big Two defend near-lifetime employment in the form of tenure and shoddy teacher dismissal policies that make it difficult for districts to root out laggards (as well as those engaged in criminal and sexual abuse). Their opposition to the efforts of Teach For America (which is now the training center of choice for high-quality Black, Latino, and Native teachers) to diversify teaching, as well as their fights against efforts of charters to develop alternative routes for bringing in teachers (which would be a boon to mid-career professional of African-American descent) also exemplifies their lack of concern for the futures of poor and minority children.

Meanwhile AFT and NEA have been unwilling to ride herd on locals and state affiliates who oppose school discipline reforms that can help poor and minority children. AFT’s failure three years ago to force its Minneapolis local to support an effort by the district to reduce overuse of suspensions is merely one of many instances when the national union’s proclamations for social justice are proven empty in practice.

This soft bigotry perpetuated by AFT and NEA extends beyond teachers. From opposing the expansion of high-quality charter schools and other school choice options, to its opposition to Parent Trigger laws and efforts of Parent Power activists in places such as Connecticut and California, to efforts to eviscerate accountability measures that hold districts and school operators to heel for serving Black and Brown children well, even to their historic disdain for Black families and condoning of Jim Crow discrimination against Black teachers, both unions have proven no better than outright White Supremacists when it comes to addressing the legacies of bigotry in which American public education is the nexus.

By refusing to embrace systemic reforms, AFT and NEA help perpetuate damage to the futures of Black and Brown children, often behaving no differently in consequence than the regime that occupies the executive branch of the federal government. Even worse, by refusing to help root out those teachers harming children, the two unions actually damage the teaching profession itself as well as do disservice to those good and great teachers who care for every child in their classrooms.

Certainly Weingarten is no bigot. This is crystal clear. But given these realities, one has to wonder how different is she in reality from Steve Bannon? Because she and her allies are doing no better than him when it comes to building brighter futures for Black and Brown children.

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AFT’s Bleak Future

As this morning’s Teachers Union Money Report shows, the American Federation of Teachers knows how to spend well. Especially on its leaders and staff. Whether or not it will be…

As this morning’s Teachers Union Money Report shows, the American Federation of Teachers knows how to spend well. Especially on its leaders and staff.

Whether or not it will be able to do so is a different story.

Some 236 staffers were paid six-figure sums in 2016-2017, according to the union’s latest disclosure to the U.S. Department of Labor. That is 14 more than in the previous fiscal year. That well-paid group includes Michelle Ringuette, the former Service Employees International Union staffer who is chief political aide to President Rhonda (Randi) Weingarten; she was paid $240,437 last fiscal year. Michael Powell, who is Weingarten’s mouthpiece, picked up $252,702 from the union.

Kombiz Lavasany, an AFT operative who oversees Weingarten’s money manager enemies’ list, earned $177,872 in 2016-2017. Kristor Cowan, who handles the union’s lobbying, collected $189,808 last fiscal year. Then there is Leo Casey, the vile propagandist who currently runs the union’s Albert Shanker Institute; he was paid $232,813 in 2016-2017 for doing, well, whatever Leo does these days that doesn’t include accusing reformers of committing “blood libel“.

Of course, the leaders are well-paid. Weingarten was paid $492,563 in 2016-2017, just a slight decrease over the previous year. She still remains among the nation’s top five percent of wage earners, and thus, an elite. Her number two, Mary Cathryn Ricker, was paid $337,434 last fiscal year (an 8.3 percent increase over the previous period), while Secretary-Treasurer Loretta Jonson was paid $392,530 in 2016-2017, a 9.6 percent increase over the past period. Altogether, AFT’s top three took home $1.2 million last fiscal year, virtually unchanged from the same time in 2015-2016.

The current occupant of the White House’s appointment of Neil Gorsuch to the U.S. Supreme Court dooms the financial and political future of AFT — and even has risks for some players in the school reform movement.

The additional salaries and bodies explain why AFT’s union administration costs increased by 17.8 percent (to $10.2 million) over 2015-2016, while general overhead costs increased by 14 percent (to $42 million). The union still managed to keep benefits costs from increasing. It spent just $10.4 million in 2016-2017, barely unchanged from the previous period; that can be credited in part to the fact that, unlike the districts its rank-and-file work in, AFT doesn’t provide defined-benefit pensions and only gives its workers defined-contribution plans that the union can avoid contributing to during times of financial stress.

It takes a lot of money to keep Weingarten and her team on board. Of course, they can thank compulsory dues laws that force even teachers who don’t want to be part of AFT. But those dollars are on the decline.

The union collected just $177 million in dues and agency fees in 2016-2017, a 7.9 percent decline from the previous year. This is despite the fact that the union’s full-time rank-and-file increased by 5.2 percent (to 710,865 from 675,902) over the previous period, reversing a three-year decline. One reason for the decline: A 12 percent decline in the number of one-quarter rank-and-file (to 81,191 from 93,047), a group that includes nurses and government employees represented by the AFT’s non-teachers’ union affiliates, and a 29.2 percent decrease in one-eighth rank-and-filers (to 24,180 from 34,104).

Another factor lies in the move last year by United Teachers Los Angeles to jointly affiliate with the National Education Association. That move contributed to a 23 percent increase in the number of AFT rank-and-filers in affiliates also tied to NEA and other rival national unions (to 158,225 from 128,221). With more states attempting to end compulsory dues laws, a possible U.S. Supreme Court law striking them down altogether, and a desire by state and local affiliates to wield more influence in education policy at all levels, expect more AFT affiliates (and even some NEA affiliates) to also align themselves with other national unions.

Overall, AFT generated revenue (including debt borrowings) of $332 million in 2016-2017, a 1.2 percent increase over the previous year. This included $88.2 million it borrowed during the year to shore up operations (of which $68 million was repaid by the end of the fiscal period); that’s 59 percent more than the amount the union borrowed in 2015-2016. Excluding the borrowing, AFT’s revenue for 2016-2017 was $244 million, virtually unchanged from the previous year.

But as today’s report notes, AFT faces trouble in the next year. If the U.S. Supreme Court strikes down compulsory dues laws as expected in Janus v. AFSCME, the union and its affiliates will lose big. The union has already seen its affiliate in Wisconsin attempt a merger with NEA’s Wisconsin Education Association Council after losing half of its rank-and-file since the state abolished its compulsory dues law six years ago. [The merger was aborted because of the difficulty of merging dues structures.]

While AFT’s presence in Democrat-dominated states could help it stem rank-and-file losses, the reality is that it will likely lose at least 25 percent of its membership. This means a likely loss of $44 million (based on 2016-2017’s dues collections), and less revenue that it can use for influence-buying, political campaign activities, and lobbying. Not even AFT’s stalled strategy of expanding its presence into nursing and healthcare would have offset those losses,  especially since the Supreme Court ruling will also apply to public employees working at hospitals and health centers.

Those possible revenue and influence losses is one reason why AFT, along with other NEA and other public-sector unions, spent so furiously last year to support Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign. If she had one, it was likely that either she would get to appoint a Supreme Court justice more-amenable to their cause, or, given congressional Republican opposition to Obama’s efforts to select a replacement for Antonin Scalia, would have kept the court split equally between conservative and more-progressive justices.

But with Trump in the White House and his appointee to the high court, Neil Gorsuch, confirmed and in the job for life, AFT and its affiliates now needs a new strategy for actually attracting members. This will be difficult.

Because AFT hasn’t had to actually win bodies since the 1960s, it lacks the strong organizing infrastructure that has made SEIU a major force in both the public and private sectors. The fact that the union has seen a 15 percent year-to-year decline in associate members (who are members of the national union) means that there is also little appetite for its presence, especially since, unlike state and local affiliates, it doesn’t have the means to help associate members out when they have workplace disputes.

While the state affiliates are strong in lobbying legislatures, they, along with AFT National, play little role in addressing the day-to-day concerns of classroom teachers; that’s what locals such as UTLA, Chicago Teachers Union, and United Federation of Teachers in New York City do. That the big locals also tend to be major players at the state levels, dominate the operations of the affiliates, and, in the case, of UFT, virtually controls the virtually-insolvent state affiliate, means that they have little need for either the state operations or national. Even without a Supreme Court ruling, you can expect the local affiliates to develop new structures that bypass AFT and allow them to try new approaches to education policymaking and organizing.

Reformers can’t exactly celebrate, either. A dirty secret of centrist Democrat and civil rights-oriented reformers is that they are as dependent as AFT on compulsory dues. This is because AFT and other public sector unions are the biggest financiers of the Democratic National Committee operations (as well as those of state parties), and also give plenty to reform-minded groups for their activities outside of education. Center for American Progress, Leadership Council on Civil and Human Rights, and UNIDOS are among the reform-minded outfits who will also take a hit if the Janus ruling goes against AFT and its fellow public-sector unions.

You can imagine Weingarten and her staffers shudder at the prospect of a future without compulsory dues. What they will do to preserve traditionalist influence (and keep their jobs) will be fascinating to watch.

Dropout Nation will provide additional analysis of the AFT’s financial filing later this week. You can check out the data yourself by checking out the HTML and PDF versions of the AFT’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.

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Four Burning Questions in School Reform: It Starts with (Cathie) Black

Just because it’s Thanksgiving week doesn’t mean there aren’t points to ponder: What is New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s next step in getting support for making Cathleen Black chancellor…

Photo courtesy of Fallbrook Bonsall Village News

Just because it’s Thanksgiving week doesn’t mean there aren’t points to ponder:

  1. What is New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s next step in getting support for making Cathleen Black chancellor of New York City’s schools? Based on what some speculate, some folks (namely New York State Education Commissioner David Steiner, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and New York AFT boss Michael Mulgrew) want a more-education industry-versed person (essentially, a member of the educational status quo) to serve as Black’s co-pilot in overseeing the city’s Department of Education. Will Bloomberg play ball or pick one of outgoing Chancellor Joel Klein’s former deputies (notably Chris Cerf) and dare his opponents in a game of political chicken.
  2. Will incoming House Education and Labor Committee Chairman John Kline actually attempt an investigation (or show trial, depending on where one sits) of the Obama administration’s handling of federal stimulus funds — including Race to the Top money? Will he help back an effort by Utah’s Jason Chaffetz — who may take over one of the House subcommittees overseeing the District of Columbia — to revive the now-shuttered D.C. Opportunity voucher plan? The answer may be “no” to both.
  3. When will the National Education Association and American Federation of Teachers admit that defined-benefit pensions and other parts of traditional teacher compensation are no longer worth defending? That answer may come in the next few years as the pension deficits of their affiliates finally start hitting the bottom lines. Or they end up like the NEA’s Indiana affiliate and go bust altogether.
  4. Will Detroit and Indianapolis — home to two of the nation’s most-persistent dropout factories — be among the latest cities to have their districts be taken over by state education departments. Indiana’s education czar, Tony Bennett, has already fired his shot across the bow of Indianapolis Public Schools (which has  seven of 21 schools — including the notorious Manual High — under probation for five consecutive years) and other districts. Eduspiel speculated on what would happen to Detroit Public Schools earlier this year. Either way, both can’t end up like Philadelphia — whose five-year Promoting Power rate declined from 74 percent for the Class of 2001 to 64 percent for the Class of 2009 since Pennsylvania state officials took over the district nine years ago.

By the Way: The State of Black CT Alliance — which helped successfully push for the Nutmeg State’s Parent Trigger law — is hosting its first annual Building Blocks of Educational Excellence Campaign Dinner and Awards Ceremony. Congressman Chaka Fattah, Education Trust President Katie Haycock and yours truly will be speaking at the Dec. 16th event in Stamford, Conn., and will talk about to reform American public education and  Learn more (and buy your tickets) at the State of Black CT Alliance’s Web site.

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