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Election 2010: Teachers' Unions Put Time, Money into Campaigns

For all the attention we pay to congressional races, teachers' unions tend to focus with much greater intensity on state-level elections, at least as measured by the amount of campaign cash they give. In a story this week, I take a look at unions' activities on the campaign trail this fall, and where they're chaneling their political donations.

Perhaps not surprisingly, teachers' unions have devoted much more money to state-level Democrats, $8.2 million, than they have to Republicans, $938,000, according to the National Institute on Money in State Politics. The National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers are also pouring a lot of cash—more than $8 million combined—into supporting or attempting to defeat ballot measures in the states. Keep in mind, all of these amounts are probably low: The institute collects its information from state disclosure agencies, and it takes a while for all of the records to roll in. And several people I talked to for my story said they expect the political donations and campaign activity to pick up a lot heading into the home stretch before Nov. 2.

How strong is the unions' interest in state politics? Consider: In the 2007-2008 cycle, the NEA was the largest single provider of political cash at the state and federal levels during the 2007-2008 election cycle, contributing a combined $56.5 million, according to data provided by the Center for Responsive Politics. The vast majority of that money flow, $53.8 million, went to state-level candidates, political parties, and ballot measures. The cash flow from the AFT was similarly state-heavy.

Why are teachers' unions so interested in state elections? Because in many ways, that's where the action is. A lot of education policy—particularly school spending—is crafted at the state level, by governors and legislature. So are state pension policies. And state ballot measures have the potential to bring many millions more in taxes into K-12 systems—or strip them of that revenue.

So while national media attention (and maybe your office betting pool) focuses on the battle for Congress this fall, don't forget about statehouses races. The teacher' unions certainly haven't.

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