As Dropout Nation detailed on Monday in its initial analysis of the National Education Association’s 2013-2014 financial disclosure to the U.S. Department of Labor, grants and donations to supposedly like-minded groups made up a large portion of the $132 million the union spent to preserve its influence. But the nation’s largest teachers’ union also spent plenty on organizing and other activities geared toward opposing systemic reform.
One state where NEA worked hard to oppose reform was Wisconsin, where it teamed up with the American Federation of Teachers to oppose Gov. Scott Walker’s re-election campaign. Since Walker successfully passed Act 10, which abolished collective bargaining and ended the ability of public-sector unions to force workers to pay dues into their coffers, the NEA’s Badger State affiliate has lost one-third of its members over the past three years. Ousting Walker, along with helping Democrats gain control of the state legislature, would have helped the union regain lost ground and revenue. NEA subsidized the Wisconsin Education Association Council to the tune of $2.3 million in 2013-2014; this helped the affiliate undertake an aggressive ground campaign that included providing absentee ballot request forms to 15,000 potential voters, as well as mailed out 40,000 flyers. The union also contributed $125,000 to Wisconsin Jobs Now, an outfit launched at the behest of the Service Employees International Union’s healthcare affiliate in the state which has attracted controversy or stretching and violating campaign laws in word and deed; it also paid $10,509 to Constance Hutchison, a former state secretary of higher education.
None of the spending mattered. As Dropout Nation reported earlier this month, Walker easily won re-election against Mary Burke, the Democratic standard-bearer (and NEA favorite) for the state’s top job, while the legislature remains in Republican control.
Meanwhile NEA spent plenty in North Carolina, where state legislators passed legislation eliminating near-lifetime employment for teachers as well as launching a school voucher initiative. The fears that Republicans in control of both the governor’s office and the state legislature would go further to advance some aspects of systemic reform (even as they halted implementation of Common Core reading and math standards) is one reason why the union’s Super-PAC spent $3 million to back the unsuccessful re-election campaign of U.S Sen. Kay Hagen over state house Speaker Thom Tillis, an architect of those efforts. The union subsidized its North Carolina affiliate to the tune of $1.1 million, as well as contributing $77,000 to North Carolina Citizens for Protecting Our Schools, which spent money on a number of state house races. NEA also subsidized other efforts in the Tar Heel State. This included paying $44,964 to Patterson Harkavy to help the union overturn the elimination of tenure; spending $20,625 on the services of Stephanie Bass, a former communications director for progressive group Blueprint NC, for communications work on the ground; and paying $7,500 to Dewey Square Group for advocacy efforts. As in Wisconsin, the NEA’s spending in North Carolina yielded no good results.
While the NEA’s spending on backing politicians didn’t work out so well, it yielded some better results in backing ballot initiatives.
On one hand, the union contributed $2 million to Colorado Commits to Kids, which unsuccessfully advocated for the passage of Amendment 66 in 2013, which would have increased the state’s income taxes from 4.63 percent to as much as 5.9 percent for citizens earning more than $75,000 a year. Ballotpedia notes that NEA (including its Colorado affiliate) was the single-biggest donor to the group based on numbers it had obtained earlier this year. The defeat of Amendment 66 was one of several major defeats for the union in the Rocky Mountain State over the past two years that includes the successful passage of Prop. 104 (which requires collective bargaining negotiations to be open to the public) and incumbent U.S. Sen. Mark Udall’s defeat at the hand of Congressman Cory Gardner.
On the other hand, the union contributed $473,000 to Class Size Counts, a Washington State-based outfit which successfully backed Initiative 1351, which would restrict class sizes to no more than 25 kids in elementary and secondary schools; Ballotpedia estimates that NEA (including its affiliate and Super-PAC) contributed $2.8 million to the group, making it the single-biggest backer of the effort. Because the initiative requires the hiring of more teachers, the union and its Evergreen State affiliate will benefit greatly, both financially and otherwise, from its passage. The effort was also backed by SEIU, which likely backed I-1351 as a Trojan Horse for its own aims — and not exactly to help the NEA expand its ranks; this is because the wording of the initiative allows any district to use the additional state dollars to hire custodians and other classified employees represented by the union.
Then there is Missouri, where NEA spending yielded mixed results. The union gave $500,000 to Committee in Support of Public Educators, an arm of the union’s Show-Me State unit which successfully defeated the teacher evaluation reform measure contained in Amendment 3; the union and its state affiliate spent an additional $1 million to oppose the measure, according to Ballotpedia. NEA also gave $25,000 to the Missouri Early Voting Fund, which unsuccessfully backed an effort to put on the ballot an initiative that would have allowed earlier voting running up to Election Day. All in all, NEA won an important defensive victory, but didn’t gain much for its allies among progressives most-supportive of increasing voter turnout.
The NEA also gave $38,784 to its Hawaii affiliate to successfully defeat Amendment 4, which would have allowed early childhood education subsidies to go to privately-operated preschools. The union also provided $500,000 to its joint affiliate with the AFT, MEA-MFT, to successfully defeat LR-126, which would have moved back late voter registration from Election Day to the Friday before; this worked out far better for both NEA and AFT than their affiliate’s endorsements and financial backing of both U.S. Sen. John Walsh (who was forced out of his campaign to win a full term after the New York Times revealed in July that he plagiarized a master’s thesis he submitted to the U.S. Army War College) and his NEA- and AFT-backed replacement as Democratic standard-bearer, State Rep. Amanda Curtis (whose antics immediately disqualified her from higher office).
Then there’s Nevada, where NEA gave $100,000 to the Education Initiative Political Action Committee, which aimed to pass Question 3, a measure that would have forced businesses generating more than $1 million in revenue (including casino operators) to pay a two percent margin tax that would have been spent on traditional districts to the benefit of the union’s state unit. NEA was by far the biggest backer of the effort, with it and its affiliate spending $1.6 million on it altogether. Question 3 was widely opposed by business groups, and was ultimately crippled by a move by the AFL-CIO’s Nevada affiliate to abandon its initial support for the measure. The measure was soundly defeated on Election Day.
As you would expect, NEA’s political activities aren’t limited to contributions and subsidies to its affiliates. The union paid $150,000 to the Ballot Initiative Strategy Center for help on its efforts; spent $10,000 with pollster Celinda Lake’s eponymous firm; paid $144,700 to pollster GBA Strategies (which was active in California political races); and $118,826 with JBL Associates. It also paid $72,000 to S&B Public Solutions (which does business as Hilltop Public Solutions); $25,356 to mobile campaigning outfit Revolution Messaging; $105,000 with New Media Firm (whose boss, Will Robinson, helped the NEA and other public sector unions defeat Ohio Gov. John Kasich’s effort to abolish collective bargaining); $10,046 with the firm run by Democrat operative Donna Brazile (who is now co-chairing the AFT-backed Democrats for Public Education); and $20,000 to advertise on Bill Press’ radio show.
Dropout Nation also noticed some additional spending tied to the secretive Democracy Alliance’s network of outfits. This includes $50,000 to the Atlas Project, which gathers voter data for use in grassroots advocacy; and $100,000 to Sixteen Thirty Fund, which has, in turn, financed Democracy Alliance’s Latino Engagement Action Fund. Spreading its wings outside the Beltway, NEA spent $59,200 with Two Peninsulas Research Group, which helped the union and its Michigan affiliate in its unsuccessful effort to defeat Gov. Rick Snyder’s re-election campaign; and $25,000 with Battleground Research in Ohio for its efforts against Kasich and other foes of the union’s traditionalist thinking. None of this spending has been helpful, either for NEA’s political influence or for teachers (especially younger members) who want a focus on elevating the teaching profession.
The fall in NEA’s political position has been matched by its financial decline. The union generated $385 million in 2013-2014, a slight decline over the previous fiscal year, thanks in part to a 1.2 percent decline in members and agency fee payers (from 3.1 million to 3.05 million). Excluding the agency fee payers, NEA’s membership has fallen from just three million to 2.96 million thanks to retirements and other losses. This explains why NEA spent $90,000 on services from Arlington, Va., membership consultant Decision Demographics. The union continued to generate less money from NEA Member Benefits, the controversial affiliate that peddles annuities and other financial instruments to its members; it collected $1.4 million from the unit, a 19 percent decline from income received in 2012-2013. [ NEA Member Benefits did manage to earn a surplus of $8.3 million for 2012-2013, according to its filing with the Internal Revenue Service, nearly double its $4.5 million profit a year earlier.]
The revenue and membership declines, along with NEA’s high spending ways, led to the union generating a $33 million surplus, a 25 percent decline over the previous year. Sure, NEA’s payroll barely budged within the past year (still spending $67 million on employee salaries), and its benefits costs declined by seven percent (to $61 million). But all that was offset by a 15 percent increase in union administration costs.