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You No Longer Have to Be an Educator to Join the National Education Association

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Houston

After years of resistance, delegates of the National Education Association voted to open up membership to non-educator "public education allies."

On July 5, 68.9 percent of delegates voted to amend the national teachers' union's constitution to establish a new category of membership. The amendment needed a two-thirds majority to pass.

The community allies will not be able to vote, nominate candidates for elected office, or hold governance positions within the union. They will, however, be able to donate to the NEA's political action committee, something only members are able to do. And it will open up lines of communication between the community allies and the union, especially in regards to political advocacy. 

This amendment narrowly failed at last year's representative assembly, and delegates have voted down similar proposals several other times in the past. While those in favor of the amendment saw it as an opportunity to harness the support of parents, students, and community members, others worried it would dilute the power of the NEA. 

"What I don't want is a bunch of bunglers to come together with a bunch of $5,000 donations to our PAC and tell us what we can or can't do," said Dashiell Rohan, a delegate from Nebraska, during a half hour of debate on the issue.

Still, Cecily Myart-Cruz, a vice president for the United Teachers Los Angeles, said having a category for community allies would help the union harness the support it received during the city's January teacher strike.

"There are 35,000 members of UTLA, but during the strike, the police stopped counting after 60,000 people were in the streets," she said. "Now, imagine if those 30,000 folks had been community allies. It is a tangible way our students, parents, and community organizations that stood with us on the line for public education" can continue to support educators.

The passage of this amendment comes at a time when the NEA is grappling with the aftermath of a Supreme Court decision that made it easier for teachers to leave their unions. While the NEA did not see the steep membership losses that were projected, it has lost tens of thousands of members and fee-payers since the decision. Adding new community members could be a way for the NEA to recoup some of those losses.

NEA leaders had supported the amendment and are recommending that community allies pay $25 in membership dues—an amount that still needs to be approved by delegates. NEA leaders said they are prepared to begin offering the new membership option in the 2019-20 membership year. 

Image: NEA President Lily Eskelsen García presides over the 2019 NEA Representative Assembly in Houston. Courtesy of the National Education Association. All rights reserved. 

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