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NEA Reports Membership Gains, Primes Itself for Upcoming Challenges

Orlando, Fla.

For the first time in five years, the National Education Association is reporting an increase in members.

According to its latest count, NEA's membership stands at 2,970,886 as of June 2015, an increase of some 14,300 individuals from last year. (See chart, below.)

And at an open hearing today, the NEA presented a revised 2015-16 strategic plan and budget anticipating a total increase of about 20,000 teachers in 2015-16, offset by the loss of 5,000 education support personnel. (These numbers are a little confusing, because they're put in full-time equivalents for budgetary reasons.)

It's not entirely clear whether the gains represent "brand new" members or nonmember agency-fee payers who have been converted to members. In any case, this is quite a different scenario than the NEA painted last year, when it expected yet more declines.

What's behind the increase? It could be the union's attempts to improve organizing, or simply the overall improvement in the economy since the 2008 recession finally showing up in an uptick in hiring.

The union isn't resting on its laurels, however. 

"Although we're doing better, we are not out of the woods at all," said Amy Simpson, a member of the NEA's board of directors hailing from Wyoming. "The legislative attacks on affiliates and members have multiplied; the loss of agency fee is likely, and affiliates' fiscal health remains a significant issue."

Simpson noted that some 66 percent of dues money comes from the states in which agency fees (charged of nonmembers who benefit from bargaining) can be collected. 

In all, the NEA's 2015-16 expects some $358 million in revenue, up from the $354 million it projected last year. The additional revenue from the increased members will be put towards existing programs and services, like the UniServ network of local support staff.

The bottom-line theme from the hearing? Simpson put it this way.

"Organizing, organizing, organizing, organizing, organizing," she said. "Say it fast as many times as you can, because that's what we need to do."

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