Birmingham, Ala. – Today (July 24, 2023), the Alabama Policy Institute (API) announced its endorsement of the federal Stopping Teachers Unions from Damaging Education Needs Today (STUDENTS) Act, which seeks to reform the federal charter of the country’s largest education union, the National Education Association (NEA). Some of the proposed changes to the NEA’s charter could also bring about reforms to local affiliates like the Alabama Education Association (AEA).
Originally chartered in 1906, the NEA is one of 95 federal corporations. Federal charters are generally given to noncontroversial organizations with unifying, civic purposes. The original purpose of the NEA was to simply “elevate the character and advance the interests of the profession of teaching” and to “promote the cause of education in the United States.”
Nearly 120 years later, the modern day NEA has expanded its power and influence far beyond the scope of its chartered purpose, operating as the only federal labor union and significantly engaging in political advocacy, using its influence to weigh in on nearly every major political debate.
The STUDENT Act is an attempt by Congress to make AEA more accountable to the federal government and depoliticize the organization, bringing the focus back to advocating for educational improvements throughout the country.
Key reforms of the STUDENT Act include: prohibiting the NEA from lobbying and engaging in electoral politics, prohibiting the NEA from engaging in discrimination or utilizing hiring quotas, prohibiting the NEA (and local affiliates like the AEA) from using government payroll systems to collect membership dues, barring NEA and its affiliates from advocating in favor of the teaching of Critical Race Theory, forbidding NEA and its affiliates from supporting teacher and other educational employees taking part in a strike, and increasing reporting and accountability requirements that the NEA must provide annually to Congress, among other reforms.
AEA, the Alabama affiliate of the NEA, has been one of the most powerful lobbies in state politics for decades. In the most recent election cycle alone, AEA contributed nearly $1.6 million to candidates, lawmakers, and school board members statewide, with more than $1 million going to the state’s Republican majority.
Instead of focusing on improving education, AEA’s influence has been used to both promote and defeat a broad range of issues that have come before the Alabama Legislature, many of which had little or no direct impact on teachers or education. Meanwhile, the AEA has made little progress in improving the state’s quality of education, with national test scores remaining stagnant or declining over the past 25 years.
While the STUDENT Act would have only limited impact on AEA directly, by reforming the NEA and holding it accountable to federal lawmakers there could be positive benefits for Alabama’s education employees and the state as a whole.
API encourages Congress to fully engage in this debate.