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The NEA's Progressive Turn


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American Spectator:

Last month, the National Education Association claimed a substantial victory when it and other public-sector unions convinced Ohio voters to repeal the state's ban on collective bargaining. Although most voters were more likely annoyed that Gov. John Kasich and the Republican-controlled legislature denied such privileges to unions representing local police officers and firefighters than with any effort to curb teachers' union power, the successful repeal allowed the union's president, Dennis Van Roekel, to proclaim that citizens "sent an unequivocal message to those who play politics with the lives of teachers… we got your back."

But this election, along with the successful recall of a school reform-minded Michigan state legislator, and the NEA's efforts to co-opt the Occupy Wall Street movement, offers a glimpse into the strategy the nation's largest teachers' union will use to battle with both the nation's school reform movement and fiscal conservatives inside the nation's statehouses -- especially those in the Midwest, where the majority of its rank-and-file members reside -- over the future of America's woeful public schools.

Since March, when governors in Ohio and Wisconsin successfully passed bans on requiring districts to bargain collectively with NEA and American Federation of Teachers affiliates, the NEA has taken a more militant approach to beating back reformers. In July, the NEA successfully enacted a two-fold increase in the member dues dedicated to political campaigning. The $10 a member increase adds another $40 million to the union's war chest, easily boosting its position as one of the biggest donors in American politics. Through its super-PAC -- the recipient of $5.4 million in member funds since last year -- the NEA is looking to take advantage of the Citizens United ruling and further leverage its prime role as an electoral big spender.

The NEA's state affiliates are pouring millions into combating school reform groups such as the tough-talking Michelle Rhee's StudentsFirst and the quieter American Federation for Children, as well as beat back reform-minded governors and movement conservatives opposed to public-sector unions. In Ohio, the NEA affiliate there poured $5 million into something called We Are Ohio as part of the successful repeal of the collective bargaining ban.

In Idaho, the national union has ladled $157,000 to Idahoans for Responsible Education Reform, which has worked closely with the union's Gem State chapter to put up a voter referendum aimed at overturning a series of reforms -- including banning collective bargaining -- successfully championed this year by tough-talking Gov. Butch Otter and the state's school superintendent, Tom Luna. Meanwhile the NEA's Pennsylvania affiliate, which is battling against Gov. Tom Corbett's efforts to launch a new school choice initiative, increased its political spending by 9 percent (to $14.8 million), according to the union's LM-2 filing with the U.S. Department of Labor.snip
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