The yearly NEA convention was replete with the usual bogeymen, rah-rah talk, weird new business items and a bit more angst than usual.
This last year should have been a pip for the National Education Association. Antoni Scalia’s death killed Friedrichs and kept forced unionism alive and well in half the country. And the inevitable Hillary victory in November was going to give the teachers union a coveted seat at the executive table.
But with Janus v AFSCME, a follow-up to Friedrichs, having a good shot at being heard and passing muster with SCOTUS next year and the union’s worst nightmare being elected over darling Hillary, things are not so rosy in the union kingdom. The resulting angst at the NEA convention, which wrapped up last week in Boston, was palpable.
NEA President Lily Eskelsen García, who, in a prior talk, accused Education Secretary Betsy DeVos of being “not qualified” and a “danger to our students” then added at the convention, that she is “the queen of for-profit privatization of public education” and doesn’t trust her motives. Additionally, the union passed a motion that if DeVos doesn’t address its concerns, it will demand her resignation. While NEA had also called for the head of her predecessor, Arne Duncan, the tone this year was considerably more hysterical.
Then there was the usual prattle about corporate billionaires killing public education. García summed up this tired old saw by emphasizing, “We can win. We have power. And they know it. So, we stand in a dangerous place. We stand between a profiteer and his profits.”
More accurately you and your union-über-alles values stand between many parents and the schools they really want their children to attend. For example, while the new NEA charter school policy is similar to its old one, it is certainly more strident. The union wants charters to be authorized by school districts and subject to the same open-records laws and accountability measures as traditional public schools, which would effectively rule out any charters run by private entities such as the highly successful and popular KIPP network. In other words, NEA wants charters to become just like the traditional public schools that millions of parents are desperately trying to escape. (Irony alert: No one at the convention publicly acknowledged that U.S. Teacher-of-the-Year Sydney Chaffee, who spoke at the confab, teaches at a non-unionized charter school in Massachusetts.)
At one point García rattled off the union’s recent victories over the dreaded privatization chimera in Arkansas, Colorado, Maine, Minnesota, Nebraska, Nevada, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia. She added that when Georgia’s governor “pushed a ballot initiative to give the state power to take over local schools, the Georgia Association of Educators led the fight and the public said: No thank you. You won!”
Well, half-truths abound here. For example, after a defeat for the choice-averse union in the Trinity Lutheran Church v. Pauley decision, the U.S. Supreme Court vacated a Colorado Supreme Court decision which struck down a voucher program in Douglas County. The Colorado Court has been instructed to reconsider the case in light of Trinity. In other words, Colorado is still on hold, but things are looking up for parents. Also, while in November Georgians did indeed vote no on a referendum that would have given the governor the power to take over chronically failing schools, the NEA President failed to mention that a case against Georgia’s tax-credit scholarship program, which “allows donors to receive tax credits in return for contributions to qualified nonprofit scholarship organizations that help families send their children to the schools of their choice,” was dismissed last month.
In a rather bizarre turn, the union adopted Resolution A-4 which states, “The Association further believes that public education should be publicly and democratically controlled, without undue influence in decision-making on the part of any private interests, including, but not limited to, business concerns and philanthropic organizations.”
“Without undue influence in decision-making on the part of any private interests…!” As Mike Antonucci notes, the NEA itself is a “private interest.” So is this something of a murder-suicide pact?
Then there was the usual parade of New Business Items, which are proposed projects and actions from the delegates for action during the coming year. On the privatization front, the hoi-polloi is VERY SERIOUS that NEA should adopt an official position of objection to School, Inc., a terrific 3-hour documentary featuring the late Cato Institute scholar Andrew Coulson that aired on PBS in June. The NBI claims that the effort, which proposes market solutions to our edu-mess, “was funded by a foundation known to support vouchers and allied with Koch Brothers’ Americans for Prosperity and the Richard and Helen DeVos Foundation.” The NBI also asserts that the NEA president should contact PBS regarding School, Inc. “to express counter points to this show and propose critical documentaries about the privatization of public education (like Backpack Full of Cash). Finally, NEA members should be encouraged to contact PBS voicing their opinions on the showing of School, Inc.”
But as usual, not all the NEA NBIs dealt with education matters. In fact, one item takes us to the Aloha State. NBI 37 reads, “The NEA will publish an article that documents the illegal overthrow of the Hawaiian Monarchy in 1893, the prolonged illegal occupation of the United States in the Hawaiian Kingdom, and the harmful effects that this occupation has had on the Hawaiian people and resources of the land.” (Memo to NEA: Ninety-three percent of the Hawaiian electorate voted for statehood in 1959. Get over it.)
Whatever. The NEA’s power is in jeopardy and the unionistas know it. The ever expanding charter school movement, the proliferation of pro-parent privatization laws and several SCOTUS cases in the pipeline don’t bode well for the country’s biggest union.
Maybe a nice Hawaiian vacation would make them feel a bit better.
Larry Sand, a former classroom teacher, is the president of the non-profit California Teachers Empowerment Network – a non-partisan, non-political group dedicated to providing teachers and the general public with reliable and balanced information about professional affiliations and positions on educational issues. The views presented here are strictly his own.