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NEA Continues Its Ad Ground Game

Last week, we told you about the National Education Association's first set of ad buys in the mid-term elections. The union is continuing its $15 million effort this week, using funds to protect some vulnerable Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate.

NEA is engaging in the hottest edu-race going this midterm: the Colorado Senate fight. It's between Sen. Michael Bennet, a Democrat, who is the former Denver schools chief and one of the Obama administration's go-to guys on K-12 issues, and Ken Buck, a tea-party fave who has called the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act "porkulus" and has said he wants to scrap the U.S. Department of Education.

"Ken Buck's disastrous plan for our schools ... Ken Buck would increase class sizes and make it even harder for middle class students to afford college," the ad contends.

But I found part of the ad perplexing. A union press release on the ad says that Buck wants to "cut" $1.1 billion from school budgets and fire 11,000 teachers and education support professionals. I asked the NEA folks where they got these numbers, and they cited the amount of money that Colorado got for education under the stimulus and the number of education jobs saved there. This confuses me a bit because the stimulus is over, for the most part. It covered fiscal years 2009 and 2010. And the education jobs bill, which provided some aid to states to avert layoffs, already passed. So it would seem, to me at least, that the money the NEA refers to in its ad is going to dry up no matter what Buck would do if elected.

I get the union's point that Buck thinks the stimulus was a bad idea and that if he had his way, the money wouldn't have been there in the first place. But it's hard for me to see how Buck is going to "cut" anything. The ad (unlike the release) uses the phrase "take away" instead of "cut," but is that really any different?

Also, interestingly, it's tough to say that Bennet and the NEA are best buddies, at least when it comes to policy. For instance, Bennet helped lead an effort in the Senate to oppose a bill that would cut funding from Race to the Top, performance pay programs, and charters in order to pay for the edujobs measure. (The NEA would have rather not seen the programmatic cuts, but supported the overall bill.) And Bennet has supported expanding charter schools and performance pay programs, policies the NEA has been skeptical of. Still, it sounds like the NEA would much rather have Bennet than Buck.

The union is also running a radio ad in western Washington state touting the record of Sen. Patty Murray, a Democrat, who is fighting a strong challenge from Dino Rossi, a businessman. Murray has supported increased education spending during her time in Congress, and also helped champion comprehensive literacy legislation. She's a big supporter of early childhood programs, too.

None of these edu-accomplishments are highlighted in the ad, though. Instead, it focuses on Murray's support of veterans, touting her votes in favor of a military pay raise and extending health benefits for families of active duty soldiers, and support for expanding education benefits for vets. Probably education just isn't going to get folks to the polls the way that vets' issues can.

The union is running another ad in North Carolina attacking Harold Johnson, a TV journalist who served in the Marines, for supporting a 23 percent sales tax. Johnson is challenging Rep. Larry Kissell, a Democrat and former teacher, who has been critical of the No Child Left Behind Act. Neither Kissell, nor education, is mentioned in the ad. Again, the tax issue might be a better way to get out the vote than, say, greater flexibility for schools in implementing accountability requirements.

NEA is also doing a direct mail campaign for Rep. Ron Klein, D-Fla., sending out 200,000 pieces of mail. Like most Democrats, Klein voted in favor of the stimulus, which provided $100 billion for education.

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