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Back to June Ed Reporter

Education Reporter
NUMBER 221 THE NEWSPAPER OF EDUCATION RIGHTS JUNE 2004

Challenging the NEA on Free Speech, 
Fair Elections, Quality Education

Bob Williams

By Bob Williams

The National Education Association and its Washington state affiliates have a few pet names for us at the Evergreen Freedom Foundation (EFF). Among our favorites: "Evil band of zealots," "lying dirtbags," "extremist think tank with dumb ideas," and "trolls."

We love these sweet nothings. They're proof we're doing our job and doing it well.

One of our major projects here at EFF is the pursuit of union accountability in the areas of finance and electioneering. Our work in this area began several years ago when a group of teachers asked us to help them protect their voting rights and paychecks. They wanted union officials to stop taking money from their paychecks in violation of state law to promote controversial political causes. We joined the battle because we saw three important ideals at stake: free speech, fair elections, and excellent education.

Free Speech 
Most of us take free speech for granted. But what if someone was diverting money from our bank account into a political fund to promote ideas we found abhorrent? The NEA and its state affiliates deduct over $1 billion a year from the paychecks of 2.5 million teachers around the nation, and use most of it to influence the outcome of elections.

The union does not limit its political activity to issues that affect teachers, or to issues about which teachers agree. At the NEA's recent annual conventions, union delegates have addressed issues ranging from the war in Iraq, slave reparations, and U.S.-Russia relations to developing a curriculum for students that promotes homosexuality.

While many classroom teachers are unaware of the union's political agenda (officials do not make a point of exposing their controversial goals), enough educators found out about the resolution on homosexuality that a sizeable protest was organized and union officials were forced to take the curriculum plan off the vote roster. NEA's former president Bob Chase made it clear, however, that the union would continue to pursue the issue even more aggressively than before.

In other words, union officials will do what they want with teachers' money, regardless of the convictions and opinions of those teachers. In Washington state, 91% of teachers refuse to give even $1 per month to the union's political action committee. So officials simply dip into teachers' mandatory collective bargaining dues to get money for their political activities. The only other institution with that kind of power over Americans is the Internal Revenue Service.

In Washington state, using mandatory dues and fees for politics is illegal. Officials of the NEA's state affiliate (WEA) have continued the practice, resulting in two lawsuits filed against the union by the state attorney general. The most recent lawsuit earned the WEA a $400,000 fine (and a court order to return an additional $200,000 to teachers) in July 2002 that set a record for the largest campaign finance fine in state history. (The union broke its own previous record of a $330,000 fine levied in 1998.)

Unfortunately, a panel of judges in the state's Court of Appeals overturned the ruling with an outrageous decision in June 2003, which said that the "right" of unions to collect money for politics trumps the free speech rights of teachers and other citizens. The paradoxical ruling said the state law protecting the free speech rights of teachers violated the union's First Amendment rights.

Hundreds of Washington citizens wrote to the attorney general asking her to appeal this decision, which she did, and it will be heard by the state supreme court this summer.

Fair Elections 
Teachers aren't the only ones affected by the union's political goals. We all live with the results of elections and public policy. That's why free and fair elections are so crucial to preserving our Republic and maintaining a government that reflects the will of the people.

While the NEA has every right to involve itself in the political arena on behalf of its members, ensuring true representation requires that the union use only voluntary funds. Instead, the NEA has taken millions of dollars deducted from the paychecks of teachers who are often unaware of or unwilling to support the union's political agenda.

Our organization has been deeper into the financial books of the NEA than any other in the nation. We've spent several years and millions of dollars on the project (and there's more to be done!). What we've uncovered thus far is astounding. In Washington state alone, the NEA has 72,406 members, each of whom pays an average of $760 a year to the union's local, regional, state and national affiliates. That means in one year, from one state, the teachers union collects about $55 million.

After reviewing more than 60,000 of the NEA's internal financial documents, EFF estimates only 20% of this amount is used for traditional union services like collective bargaining.

With the rest of the money, NEA exercises massive influence over the outcome of elections and has become the most powerful political force in the country, skewing the political process to reflect the often radical views of a small group of elitist union officials.

The NEA has operations most political parties would envy. Nationwide, the union's political activities include get-out-the-vote drives; detailed political assessments and reports; voter identification logs; direct mass mailings; email list-building; publications from local, state and national union affiliates; contributions to candidates; contributions to ballot initiatives; paid political staff; funding to other political and ideological organizations; funding to state affiliates; coordinated campaigning with political parties; NEA delegations at party conventions (state and national); phone banking, television, newspaper and radio campaigns; research and development; polling; purchase and operation of equipment; etc.

After the 2000 elections, NEA officials bragged about their role in winning five out of five targeted Senate races, nine out of eleven gubernatorial races, and 16 of 27 Congressional races (for a net gain of eight Democratic seats in the House). The union sent four full-time staffers to work on Al Gore's presidential campaign in Florida, and came up with an aggressive strategy to "move" 800,000 NEA members (one third of the union's total membership) to vote for Gore. By all indications, the "redistribution" project was a success funded with mandatory dues.

This year the union is targeting 16 states with the goal of "electing a new President." Those states are Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, West Virginia and Wisconsin.

The NEA's support of the Democratic Party (to the tune of 95% of the union's political contributions) is old news, but according to one of the NEA's own internal polls conducted a few years ago, less than half of its members identify themselves as Democrats (48%). The rest consider themselves Republicans (24%) or Independents (28%). That means the NEA is forcing more than 1.3 million teachers (citizens) across the nation to contribute their money to a political party with which they disagree.

Quality Education 
We all know a crisis exists in our public education system. Put bluntly, millions of American children are being deprived of the knowledge and skills they need to lead successful, productive lives. We can't ignore the failing test scores, the increasing shortage of skilled and competent employees, or the fact that many of America's children do not know or value the principles that will ensure the preservation of personal and national liberty.

It wasn't too long ago that public education was doing a decent job. Students were learning how to read, write, do arithmetic, and think logically.

That was back when parents and local teachers had control over the curriculum and standards in the schools. It was before the system was monopolized by a small group of union officials who have their own radical ideas about how and what kids should learn, and who have the primary goal of keeping and expanding their power and control.

The NEA has funneled millions of dollars into state and national campaigns to defeat education reform initiatives of every stripe and color. The union fights performance pay for teachers and no-nonsense literacy standards. Regardless of their specific merits and demerits, most of these reforms have one thing in common: they will break the union monopoly.

NEA officials are using children and teachers as political hostages to make sure they preserve their monopoly power and hide their real goals: more money, more members, and more power. As a result, our entire Republic is at risk.

Conclusion 
True representation, free speech, fair elections, and quality education will not be restored until the union agrees to collect its political funds the old-fashioned way: by asking.

To find out about how your or your organization can help win the battle against the NEA, contact the Evergreen Freedom Foundation: PO Box 552, Olympia, WA 98507; (360)956-3482; or info@effwa.org

Bob Williams is president of the Washington state-based Evergreen Freedom Foundation, a free-market policy research organization dedicated to advancing individual liberty, free enterprise and limited government.


 
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