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The Unions, Political Contributions, and the Elections

EdWeek's very own state-policy reporter has a must-read recent story and blog item on teachers' unions and their influence in state elections.

As colleague Sean Cavanagh writes, the No. 1 issue on the table at the state level seems to be maintenance of general education spending levels, not the teacher-effectiveness reforms that are garnering all the headlines. Also, the unions appear to be paying a lot more attention to state races rather than congressional ones.

A few additional thoughts. Those of us in the teacher-quality universe talk a lot about the populous union states, like California, Michigan and New Jersey. As it turns out, though, the National Education Association's centrally held political dollars can be allocated to any of the state affiliates, so even a relatively small, less-populous affiliate can wield a hefty influence on elections.

(AFT, though without a state-affiliate structure, can be quite powerful in local elections, like here in the District of Columbia.)

Finally, an interesting federal situation is brewing for the next presidential election.

The $4 billion in Race to the Top funding and $400-odd million in Teacher Incentive Fund programming are relatively small chunks of the billions of dollars the Obama administration and Democratically held Congress have put into education. But the unions have been vocal critics of the emphasis in these programs for linking student scores and teacher performance. They're also livid about plans to make more federal education funding competitive rather than formula-based

So will the unions back Obama in the Democratic primary, or will they back a challenger? A question to keep in the back of your mind.

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