Slowly but surely, the annual financial disclosures provided by affiliates of the National Education Association to the U.S. Department of Labor are coming available for public consumption. And in the case of the nation’s largest teachers’ union’s Florida affiliate, the spending on preserving influence is quite sizable.
The Florida Education Association, which is also an affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers, spent $15 million political activities (including lobbying, so-called representational activities that are often geared toward political activity, and contributions to what should be like-minded organizations) during 2012-2013, little changed from its spending levels during the previous fiscal year. Among the recipients of the union’s largesse: The Sunshine State unit of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, which picked up $32,500 from the NEA affiliate; the state branch of National PTA, which received $10,000 in exchange for its efforts on behalf of the NEA affiliate to preserve traditionalist practices and oppose efforts to pass a Parent Trigger law; and the Florida Conference of Black State Legislators, which also picked up a $10,000 contribution.
The biggest single recipient of Florida NEA largesse? A group called the Coalition to Save FRS, which is fighting efforts to overhaul the Sunshine State’s virtually-busted defined-benefit pensions. The NEA affiliate tossed $90,000 over to Coalition to Save FRS in 2012-2013, which in turn, has apparently been spent on a pretty nice Web site and a Facebook group which have aimed to convince taxpayers that they should ignore the pension’s officially-reported pension deficit of $20 billion (as of 2011-2012, the latest year reported), but more likely to be $26 billion (or 30 percent more than officially reported) based on Dropout Nation‘s analysis using a formula developed by Moody’s Investors Service. The NEA affiliate also poured $200,000 into its political action committee, the FEA Advocacy Fund, as well as threw in $15,000 into its solidarity fund.
Meanwhile the Florida NEA got support from its two national parents. The affiliate reported that the AFT poured $736,890 into the union during 2012-2013, less than the $980,561 the union received from the national parent during the previous year. But that number doesn’t fully reflect all the support the AFT has provided; as Dropout Nation reported last month, the AFT spent $586,109 on various union organizing projects that the Sunshine State NEA handles. The national NEA ponied up $3.5 million to the Florida affiliate in 2012-2013, more than the $3 million it spent subsidizing the affiliate during the previous year.
The NEA and AFT are particularly interested in helping their affiliate maintain its influence — and for good reason. Until recently, the Sunshine State has been home to the most-aggressive statewide effort to aggressively reform education. But with Gov. Rick Scott struggling to retain office — and turning tail on all but the most-aggressive efforts to transform public education — sparring matches between Scott and allies of predecessor Jeb Bush over the direction of education policy, and the opposition of movement conservatives over the state’s implementation of Common Core reading and math standards, traditionalists sense an opportunity to turn back systemic reform. Add in the aftermath of former state education commissioner Tony Bennett’s forced resignation as Florida’s education commissioner in August amid allegations that he changed Indiana’s A-to-F grading system while as state superintendent, and the NEA’s Florida affiliate likely feels that the turmoil among reformers offers new possibilities.
The Florida NEA affiliate also recovered $107,252 from Fight for Florida, which proclaims that it is “fighting back against the assault on Florida’s middle class” supposedly by Gov. Rick Scott and his allies in the state legislature. Apparently the NEA was unhappy that the group spent its time championing immigration reform efforts and opposing the U.S. Postal Service overhaul act contained in House Resolution 2748 instead of on issues of the union’s primary concern
As for finances? Following a trend set by other NEA affiliates in state such as Michigan, the Florida NEA lost $453,054 in 2012-2013; it had generated a $2.4 million surplus during the previous fiscal year. One reason for the loss: A four percent decline in revenue between 2011-2012 and 2012-2013 (from $56 million $53 million). Another lies with a 5.6 percent increase in benefits costs between 2011-2012 and 2013; the NEA affiliate’s own post-retirement obligations increased by 12 percent (from $13.5 million to $15 million) over that same period. This didn’t stop the Florida NEA from paying six-figure salaries. Thirty-nine staffers were paid salaries of $100,000 a year or more. Florida NEA President Andrew Ford was also well-paid, earning $394,148 in 2012-2013, a 63 percent increase over his pay in the previous fiscal year.