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At GOP Convention, NEA Thanks Republicans for Help Enacting ESSA

By Alyson Klein — July 18, 2016 3 min read
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Let’s get one thing straight right off the bat: Leaders of the National Education Association are pretty excited about the prospect of a President Hillary Clinton and will be coming out in full force for the presumptive Democratic nominee in Philadelphia at the party’s convention next week.

But, the union recently notched one of its biggest legislative wins in decades, thanks in part to Republicans, who are, after all, currently in control of Congress. The NEA and other organizations representing educators are thrilled with the Every Student Succeeds Act, which seeks to look beyond test scores in judging school performance, and takes aim at some of the Obama administration’s most treasured policies, including tying teacher evaluation to tests.

Earlier this month, NEA even gave its coveted “friend of education” award to the bipartisan duo that shepherded the law through Congress, Sens. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., and Patty Murray, D-Wash.

And on Monday, the first day of the Republican National Convention here, the NEA took time to celebrate some of the GOP lawmakers who helped push the law through, at a small, afternoon reception at a swanky wine bar a short walk from the site of the convention. Lawmakers in attendance included Reps. Rodney Davis of Illinois, John Shimkus of Illinois, Jeff Denham of California, and Bill Shuster of Pennsylvania—all GOP House members who supported ESSA’s passage.

Davis even helped the union get a key priority into the law, sponsoring an amendment that ensured that the legislation didn’t step on district’s collective bargaining agreements.

“That was about local control. It wasn’t just about union vs. management,” Davis said. “It was about making sure local districts had the control they needed. And frankly, a collective bargaining agreement is the most locally-controlled document we actually could find.” And of course, he’s glad that, “we finally got rid of the No Child Left Behind Act that nobody liked at all.”

Delegate Math

This is hardly the first time that the NEA—which is considered a close ally of the Democratic Party—has had some sort of presence at the Republican convention. (Check out our coverage of their events in 2008 and 2012.)

But the union has fewer members as delegates in Cleveland than in past years, even though the NEA’s working relationships with Republicans on Capitol Hill are at a high point. (Mary Kusler, the union’s director of government relations, didn’t have exact numbers on how this year’s crop of delegates compares to others.)

“What we are about is standing up for kids in public education regardless of their ZIP code, and that’s not a partisan matter,” Kusler said. “So we wanted to take a moment to stop and take stock of some of our Republican champions.”

Teachers on Trump

The reception also featured teachers from the surrounding area who are Republicans and active in the NEA.

Kevin Cain, a guidance counselor from Colerain Middle School in Cincinnati who came into town just for the event, is happy with the union’s recent embrace of cross-aisle collaboration.

“I think NEA is making a wonderful shift to be more inclusive in Washington,” he said. “I think our survival depends on it.”

But Cain isn’t exactly thrilled with the presumptive GOP nominee, Donald Trump, even though he knows some other teachers who are. He’s considering throwing his support to a third party candidate this time around.

Cain wasn’t the only teacher there who isn’t a huge Trump fan. This is at least the third convention for Jerome Hoynes, a high school social studies teacher from Illinois, who served as a delegate for former Sen. Bob Dole, who received the GOP nomination in 1996, and for Sen. John McCain, who was nominated in 2008.

Hoynes isn’t sold on Trump. “I really believed in Dole and McCain. They shared my values. I’m just not as sure this time around,” he said. But he thinks it’s important even for undecided Republican educators—especially union activists—to make their voices heard here, and he’s happy for the NEA outreach in Washington.

The party, he said, needs to be more “pro-union and pro-public education.”

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