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The Largest Teachers' Union Predicts a 14 Percent Membership Loss Over Two Years

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Minneapolis

The National Education Association is projecting a nearly 8 percent membership loss over the course of the next school year, along with a $28 million budget reduction, due to an adverse Supreme Court ruling. 

Last week, the Supreme Court ruled to prohibit public-sector unions in 22 states from collecting "agency" or "fair share" fees from nonmembers. Those fees were meant to cover the cost of collective bargaining. The decision is expected to lead to an exodus of members from the teachers' unions since people can now be represented in collective bargaining without having to pay anything. The Supreme Court also ruled that employees must affirmatively opt into the union instead of opting out, which creates an extra challenge for the unions' recruitment efforts. 

"We have been preparing for this for over a year; we are prepared to weather this storm," said Princess Moss, the secretary-treasurer of the NEA, in a budget hearing today at the union's annual convention. 

Still, the proposed budget reflects a hard new reality for the nation's largest teachers' union. It necessitates cutting $50 million over two years—$28 million in the first year and $22 million in the second year. That reduction is accompanied by a loss of 31,000 agency-fee payers in the first year, and a 14 percent membership decline over two years.    

The membership decline was projected based on calculations from six state affiliates that had already lost agency fees through state legislation. In general, over the past two decades, the percentage of public school teachers who participate in their unions has been declining steadily

Three-quarters of the NEA budget comes from the dues of members who are in the 22 states that allowed agency fees before the Supreme Court ruling, Moss said. 

Many people in those states are expected to drop their memberships. In lots of cases, people had been kicking in the extra dollars for full membership because they were already paying fees, and it didn't cost much more to join.

Where Are the Cuts Coming From? 

The proposed budget cuts for the first year total about $33 million, which leaves the NEA about $5 million to reinvest in defensive measures to protect against the aftermath of the Supreme Court decision. Those measures include rapid response efforts against anti-union campaigns to get teachers to drop their memberships, as well as member recruitment and outreach. 

The cuts in the proposed budget include: 

  • $10.5 million in staffing cuts. This will be made up from a combination of attrition and voluntary retirements. 
    • The impact: "When we reduce staff, we will also have to make hard decisions about the scope of the work that can be done at NEA," Moss said. "We can't always do what we've always done—we do not have the capacity to do it."
  • $11.6 million in cuts to technology and travel
  • $750,000 in cuts to print publications. Instead, the NEA will push messaging out online.
  • $656,000 in meeting reductions and savings
  • $8.6 million in reductions to grants. Most of this cut is because of membership losses—the grants are formula driven, so when the membership decreases, the amounts do as well.
  • $1 million cut to the NEA's contingency fund, which is currently at $3 million. 

The NEA's Priorities 

The strategic priorities for the NEA include increasing educator voice, recruiting and engaging early-career educators, advancing racial justice in education, and providing professional supports to educators.

"We literally cannot afford to lose that connection to the next generation of NEA members," said Amber Gould, a member of the NEA board of directors, to dozens of delegates during the open hearing. 

The budget expands year-round recruitment and engagement programs with state and local affiliates, as well as efforts to work with minority-serving institutions to recruit more diverse teachers into the workforce

The budget also invests more money into the NEA's general counsel to protect against anticipated litigation that could stem from the Supreme Court ruling (for example, eight state affiliates are already facing class-action lawsuits for back fees.)  

"Not only do we have to play offense, we have to play defense, too," Gould said.

The NEA's representative assembly will vote on the proposed budget and other action items starting Monday. (The budget is likely to pass.) Follow along for coverage of the NEA Representative Assembly on this blog and on Twitter @madeline_will

Image via Getty

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