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By Lindsey Burke
Today, the National Education Association opens its annual convention in Washington, D.C. For teachers across the country, the gathering is sure to offer a lesson in how the NEA is out of step with the views of many of the members it claims to represent.
Teachers face intense pressure to join the union. I know from experience. As a former public school teacher, my graduate school's halls were covered with teacher union posters. My first day student teaching included a lecture from an overzealous teacher who told me what life would be like without an NEA membership.
Had I joined, I would have had to fork over $541 dollars a year to the Virginia Education Association, to include membership in both the state affiliate and the NEA. But I resisted, not wanting to support the union's leftist political agenda.
But I was an exception. In all, over 3.2 million teachers are currently dues-paying members of the NEA. With annual dues generally exceeding $500 (about 1 percent of the average teacher salary), teachers should know how their dollars are being spent. Many will probably be surprised by the causes they are unintentionally supporting.
At the convention this week, the NEA leadership will vote on dozens of resolutions declaring the agreed-upon view of the union. There will be standard resolutions condemning school vouchers, homeschooling, and competency testing for teachers-no surprise for anyone familiar with the union's positions in education policy.
They will also consider a number of social issues. Last year, the NEA passed resolutions supporting affirmative action in college admissions, new teacher training programs on racism, sexism, and sexual orientation, and expanding sex education instruction to include more information about birth control, gender identification, and homophobia.
In the past, other resolutions have had nothing to do with the classroom. Recent NEA resolutions have included calling for an "exit strategy" for the Iraq war, amnesty for illegal immigrants, and single-payer health plans.
Of course, that the National Education Association supports liberal policies and organizations shouldn't be news to anyone now. According to OpenSecrets.org, since 1990, the NEA has given 93 percent of its political contributions to Democrats.
Moreover, federal disclosure laws require that the NEA and other public sector unions publish annual reports detailing how they spend member's dues. In all, the NEA took in more than $352 million in 2007. (To see this report, visit this Department of Labor website and search for the NEA by "union abbreviation.")
The report shows that the NEA spent $32 million on political activities and lobbying and made $80 million in contributions and gifts to various organizations. Included in the list of groups receiving funding is a roster of left-wing organizations: People for the American Way, Americans United for Separation of Church and State, ACORN, Amnesty International, the Human Rights Campaign, GLAAD, Campaign for America's Future, Rainbow Push Coalition, the NAACP, and the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network.
Beyond politics, the financial disclosure report also reveals that member's dues are used to fund lavish salaries for its national leadership. NEA President Reg Weaver earned more than $400,000-about 8 times more than the average American teacher's salary. In all, 346 NEA employees earned six-figure salaries. The group also spent well over a million dollars on hotels and resorts across the country. They even spent $34,000 on tropical plants and $30,000 on costumes.
Are American teachers' interests really being served paying dues to support this bloated organization and its leftist political agenda? In states like Utah and Washington that have paycheck protection laws, less than 10 percent of teachers continued to contribute their money to political causes when given the chance to opt-out.
Alternative professional associations exist and serve as a good option for those teachers looking for an organization that will provide liability insurance and legal fees, without the political agenda that the NEA pushes. Two associations - The Association of American Educators and Christian Educators Association International - serve many of the same functions for teachers as the NEA does, minus the partisanship.
As teachers across the country watch the coverage of the NEA convention this week, they should ponder why it is they joined the NEA in the first place. Most likely, it was because they believed they were becoming part of an organization that had children's best interests in mind. However, they should ask themselves who the NEA is really looking out for. The answer is most certainly not the children.
Lindsey Burke is a Domestic Policy Research Assistant at the Heritage Foundation and a former public school teacher in Virginia.