By: Amanda Davis, M. E.D.
For the first time, the NEA clearly made their stance known on the abortion issue this past week. At this year’s NEA Annual Meeting, New Business Item 56 reads: The NEA vigorously opposes all attacks on the right to choose and stands on the fundamental right to abortion under Roe v. Wade. This is despite the fact that for decades the NEA has taken a much more general tone in its official positions on abortion and women’s health. This is also despite the fact that their own members expressed concern about what such a distinct viewpoint on a divisive issue would mean to those that don’t agree, with one delegate even suggesting that the union should focus more on educational concerns.
It’s time that all teachers ask the question whether the union truly represents them.
This development exemplifies how problematic the union’s progressive agenda can be. While using teachers’ hard-earned dues money, they support political issues that have nothing to do with the classroom or teaching profession. Regardless of one’s position on the abortion issue, climate change, or LGBTQ rights—why spend money and resources supporting or opposing this? Rather than working to unite educators, the union continues to divide in a manner counterproductive to the mission of education.
Everyone knows that education and politics are intertwined, but the diverse views of educators make it difficult to paint them all with the same political or social brush. Teachers are a politically diverse and socially nuanced bunch. Teachers, like most human beings, have views that can be ambiguous, even conflicting. It’s entirely possible for a teacher to be a registered Democrat yet be undecided on how she feels about Obamacare. There are many people that have voted strictly Republican yet happily listen to NPR and even support tighter gun restrictions. Regardless of whether a teacher’s views lean left or right, most of them did not choose education as a career because they wish to enter politics. At the end of the day, teachers just want to do what they came to the schools to do: to teach.
How varied are teachers in their political views? It turns out, very much so, with the largest percentage unsurprisingly falling somewhere in the middle of conservative and liberal. A recent Gallup poll detailed that 43% of teachers described their political views as moderate, 23% as conservative, and 4% as very conservative—a combined total of 70% of the polled teachers. But to look at the teacher’s unions, one would never know that. Teachers’ unions are decidedly liberal to very liberal, which only made up a total of only 30% of teachers’ reported political views on this same poll. In 2016, a whopping 96% of the NEA’s total donations went to Democratic candidates. This is fantastic if one agrees with those candidates. The problem is, not all teachers do.
Teachers need to know that their priorities and values are significant; they need to be secure in that they are contributing to an organization that won’t steamroll them with a predetermined set of political and social priorities. It’s unlikely that the union can even begin to guarantee such a thing to all teachers given their established political and social leanings.
Money spent in teachers’ unions do not all go directly to teachers. For example, according to The Office of Labor-Management Standards (OLMS), the NEA spent a combined total of over 36% in 2015 for political lobbying and activities, along with contributions to political and social causes. Sure, the union may argue that their activities are devoted to promoting the teaching profession—but when one literally counts the dollars that go towards direct services for teachers—the percentage is actually much lower than one would assume. There is so much money and power exchanged at the political level that it is simply common knowledge that the NEA is among the most powerful lobbying forces in Washington.
The bottom line is this: if a teacher looks at what the union supports and she likes what she sees, then good. That teacher is giving hard-earned money to an organization with both eyes open. However, if a teacher wants to do the work she loves and have the workplace protection she needs, without supporting wide-ranging social agendas and political causes, that teacher deserves to know what other options are available.
The Professional Educators Network of Florida (PEN of Florida) is the choice that many teachers across Florida make for this very reason. PEN of Florida does not engage in aggressive political partisanship. PEN is not engaged in divisive social agendas unrelated to education. PEN does not endorse political candidates, nor does PEN use member’s dues for political contributions. Members have comprehensive liability protection and workplace rights protection at an affordable cost: the average savings is a third of what one pays to be a member of the union. PEN of Florida keeps all membership dues in the State of Florida to go directly to services for teachers and to benefit Florida education. To join PEN or for more information, go to www.penfl.org or call 800-311-7770.