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NEA Looks to Put Dollars Behind Ballot Efforts

The National Education Association has thrown its financial support behind an effort to overturn a series of new Idaho laws that weaken teachers' collective bargaining rights and job protections.

And the union's giving won't stop there.

The 3.2-million member union is likely to provide financial backing to a similar efforts in other states, including Ohio, the NEA's political director, Karen White, told me this week. In Idaho, the union contributed $75,000 to an attempt to gather enough signatures to have items placed on the ballot to overturn three laws recently approved by lawmakers. Those laws, which were backed by the state's Republican governor, C.L. "Butch" Otter and state schools chief Tom Luna, were strongly opposed by NEA's state affiliate. The laws put restrictions on collective bargaining and tenure and created a new merit pay system, among other provisions.

The money is coming from NEA's ballot measure and legislative crisis fund, White told me, a pool of money dedicated to get money out quickly to efforts the union supports in the states. As we've reported, the overwhelming majority of political contributions made by the NEA and American Federation of Teachers typically flow into state elections, where a lot of school policy gets shaped, and to state ballot items, where voters are often asked to decide on tax hikes or caps that affect schools.

"There's a tight deadline for getting signatures" White said of the Idaho measures. "We want to do everything we can do to try to give the people of Idaho a chance to vote on this."

Both NEA and AFT declined to provide estimates of how much they plan to spend on upcoming state ballot efforts.

Luna, for his part, is holding a series of meetings with school officials around Idaho to explain the laws. While it is typical for the department to arrange such meetings on budget issues, this year, given the broad changes brought about by the laws, the department asked districts to bring a team that included the superintendent, a school board member, a teacher, a building administrator and a business manager, said Melissa McGrath, a spokeswoman for the education agency.

In Ohio, Gov. John Kasich recently signed into a law a measure that angered unions by restricting their ability to collectively bargain. The NEA's state affiliate and other organizations are gathering signatures to try to have the measure overturned on the ballot. The NEA has not yet channeled money from its ballot-and-legislative fund to that effort, but that's likely to change soon, White said.

Across the country, teachers' unions have made a major push to fight back against the tide of laws and proposals targeting their collective bargaining rights and fundraising capabilities, as my colleague Steve Sawchuk has reported. The money flow is just one sign of their determination.

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