Since 2010-11, the National Education Association has lost about 234,000 members, of which 201,000 are classroom teachers, according to the strategic plan and budget just presented here at the National Education Association's 2013 Representative Assembly.
That's an enormous number of members, although it is fewer than the doomsday scenario of 308,000 members NEA had projected last year.
"The NEA, its members, and its affiliates have had a very tough four years," NEA Secretary-Treasurer Becky Pringle said in her presentation on the union's modified 2013-14 budget. She attributed the decline to a perfect storm of "political forces, economic forces, and education reform forces."
The actual number of people affected by these declines is actually higher than these figures, which are expressed in full-time equivalents.
"Last year, I said we must organize, we must organize, we must organize, because I don't ever want to stand before a delegate assembly again and ask them to make the tough decisions they did last year," she said. "And guess what? You did. All over this country, you beat back those bad pieces of legislation. You went out and got more members."
In all, NEA's revenues amount to $345 million, higher than the $339 million projected. The union still came up about $3 million short in its budget, but was able to close that gap by slimming programming and because its legal-services program wasn't as costly as it had anticipated.
Here's one interesting wrinkle: NEA members' dues are set by a formula based on average teacher salary. But because nationally, teachers' salaries declined last year, dues for teachers are also scheduled to decrease by about a dollar.
However, NEA wants to raise dues through a bylaw amendment that would increase them by $3 through a special assessment. The money, about $6 million, would be put into a "Great Public Schools" fund that would support grants for states and local affiliates to try new teacher-quality and parental-engagement ideas. (I'll be writing more about the details of this initiative later.)
This seems to be a somewhat controversial proposition among members, with several delegates at the budget hearing questioning the cost. But Pringle spoke passionately about the need for the increase.
"It is not going to pay salaries, it is not going to restore programs," Pringle said. "It's so we can step into this space and push out the crazy and the stupid [ideas]. ... We're not using that $3 for the NEA in any way."
She noted that because these funds will be segregated, the per-member portion of dues going into NEA's general fund is actually going down by a dollar per teacher.
"Quite honestly, it's not enough to do the work we need to do," she continued. "We're looking at locals and states partnering with the NEA to elevate this work and escalating it in a huge way."