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NEA Delegates Question Corporate Partnerships

By guest blogger Liana Heitin

Denver

Since it only takes 50 signatures to put a New Business Item to the thousands of National Education Association delegates, a single one may or may not be an indicator of what members are generally concerned about.

However, this morning, there were four NBIs listed in the RA Today about disclosing details on NEA's partnerships with outside groups, including corporate donors. So I think that constitutes a trend.

The first, NBI 17, directed that the NEA board vet "the appropriateness" of all external partnerships. The rationale was that the union "should only enter into partnerships with public education-friendly organizations."

Two other NBIs (34 and 47) proposed that the union be more transparent about the corporate sponsors it engages with. And the final NBI (54) asked that the union "inform members about money directly received by third parties (like the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation) before doing anything with it."

While only the final item mentioned Gates, it's probably fair to say that all four items were devised with that particular foundation—among others—in mind. As Stephen Sawchuk reported in November, the Gates has spent nearly $700 million on teacher-related programs since 2008. The NEA's semi-independent foundation received $3.9 million from the Gates Foundation to support teacher professional development on the common core.

That first NBI did not pass. Subsequently, a delegate moved that the subsequent three similar items be sent to the union's partnership review committee. The members agreed, so they were taken off the table.

Even so, this marks a more strident tone on partnerships, and will be a theme to watch. 

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