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Policy Groups Assail Union Over Reform

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Washington

As delegates gathered here last week for the National Education Association's annual meeting, a coalition of conservative policy organizations held a news conference to denounce the union as a politically potent force that blocks education reform.

The participants called for more scrutiny of the 2.2 million-member teachers' union, which they said claims to be an advocate for children but is in fact looking out primarily for its members' interests.

"There is a tremendous gap between NEA rhetoric and the reality of what the NEA and its state and local affiliates are doing," said Charlene K. Haar, the president of the Education Policy Institute, a Washington-based organization that tracks the national teachers' unions.

Members of the ad hoc coalition of nonprofit policy groups--called the Coalition to Educate America--are united by their support for school choice, including vouchers. The Los Angeles-based Center for the Study of Popular Culture, which publishes The Report Card, a "watchdog journal" that is sharply critical of public education, organized the umbrella group. The news conference was the first of what member groups hope will be more joint activities, said Allyson Tucker, the executive director of the Individual Rights Foundation, the center's legal division.

"We are all small, and individually no one would have paid attention to us," Ms. Tucker said. "But together, we can have an impact."

The coalition includes the Alexis de Tocqueville Institution, an Arlington, Va.-based group that has conducted financial analyses of the NEA's legislative agenda; the Institute for Justice in Washington, which is defending voucher programs for low-income students in Cleveland and Milwaukee that the NEA opposes; and the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, a Springfield, Va.-based legal-aid organization that assists employees opposed to compulsory unionism.

The NEA issued a statement in response to the criticism defending its record of advocating for legislation that would benefit children and schools.

"Instead of taking cheap shots at the NEA," the statement said, "the detractors of public education and the NEA should ask our members how they're working to improve education in their local communities."

--ANN BRADLEY

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