Your Education Road Map

Politics K-12®

ESSA. Congress. State chiefs. School spending. Elections. Education Week reporters keep watch on education policy and politics in the nation’s capital and in the states. Read more from this blog.


Did Teachers’ Union Political Spending Pay Off? Early Answer: No

By Lauren Camera — November 04, 2014 3 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

The two national teachers’ unions spent a record-setting amount on state and local races this midterm election cycle, an investment that appears not to have paid off.

The National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers spent about $40 million and $20 million, respectively—mostly in state and local races, but also on federal races, especially in the U.S. Senate, where Republicans were poised to take control of the chamber.

But as the results rolled in late last night and early this morning, it looks as through their political spending did not produce much of a return (with the exception of the Pennsylvania gubernatorial contest).

Senate Races: The political-spending arms of the American Federation of Teachers, for their part, had directed more than $1 million through Sept. 30 to the Senate Majority PAC, whose main goal is to protect the Democrats’ hold on the Senate.

  • North Carolina Senate Race: U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan (D) v. State Rep. Thom Tillis (R): TILLIS WINS

The NEA’s super-PAC, in its most recent Federal Election Commission filings—representing spending through the end of September—reported directing $250,000 to North Carolina Citizens for Protecting Our Schools in an effort to help Hagan.

  • Colorado Senate Race: U.S. Sen. Mark Udall (D) v. U.S. Rep. Cory Gardner (R): GARDNER WINS

The NEA super-PAC put $200,000 into a Spanish-language TV ad buy that ran for two weeks in the Denver and Colorado Springs markets in support of Udall. The spot criticized Gardner for voting in favor of the federal fiscal 2015 House budget, which would have cut access to the Pell Grant, a college-aid program for low- and middle-income students. The 30-second spot was designed to target Hispanic and other Spanish-speaking voters. It was part of a larger effort led by a coalition of political action committees that included the SEIU, the Senate Majority PAC, and People for the American Way. They collectively spent more than $1 million backing Udall through the Nov. 4 election.

Governors’ Races: The NEA Advocacy Fund had given $2.9 million through the end of September to the Democratic Governors Association, hoping to affect contests in Florida, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and other states where Republican governors have cut education aid or rolled back the collective bargaining rights of teachers’ unions.

  • Florida:Charlie Crist (D) v. Gov. Rick Scott (R): SCOTT WINS

The AFT as of Sept. 30 had given $500,000 to the Charlie Crist for Florida organization, backing the former governor, a Republican-turned-Democrat in his battle to unseat the GOP incumbent, Gov. Rick Scott.

  • Michigan: Mark Schauer (D) v. Gov. Rick Snyder (R): SNYDER WINS

The NEA through Sept. 30 had pushed $200,000 to Michigan for All in an effort to unseat Snyder, who has overseen significant cuts to school budgets and restricted union bargaining rights.

  • Pennsylvania: Tom Wolf (D) v. Gov. Tom Corbett (R): WOLF WINS

The NEA Advocacy Fund directed $580,000 to PA Families First, whose mission was to oust Corbett, who made significant cuts to public education spending during his first three years in office. The AFT also slammed Corbett with a six-figure radio ad buy in the Philadelphia media market that criticized the governor for cuts to education and for meddling in teacher contract negotiations in the Philadelphia school system. The AFT’s political action committee also gave $450,000 through Sept. 30 to Tom Wolf for Governor campaign organization, to support Corbett’s Democratic challenger.

  • Wisconsin: Mary Burke (D) v. Gov. Scott Walker (R): WALKER WINS

The NEA unleashed an intense boots-on-the-ground effort in Wisconsin, where Walker similarly has slashed education funding and pushed through legislation that curtailed union protections. The union’s state affiliate handed out more than 40,000 candidate-bio fliers, mailed side-by-side candidate comparisons to 45,000 Wisconsin households, organized a 15,000-member phone bank, and sent early absentee-ballot request forms, including a postage-paid envelope, to 15,000 members considered “drop-off” voters, those who tend not to vote in non-presidential elections.

California State Education Chief: TORLAKSON WINS

The AFT’s political action committee, as of Sept. 30, had directed $125,000 to back incumbent Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson, who faced challenger Marshall Tuck in a tight, nonpartisan race for state chief.

Don’t forget to join us Nov. 12 for After the Storm: What the 2014 Election Results Mean for K-12 Policy, a live Education Week event at Gallup headquarters in Washington.