Teaching Profession

A Deep Dive Into NEA’s Spending Patterns

By Stephen Sawchuk — July 03, 2014 3 min read
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For those of you new to understanding the operations of the two national teachers’ unions, I’ve spent some time reporting out a handy chart outlining their net assets over time, membership numbers, and what they spend on anything picked up by campaign-finance databases: elections, campaigns, and ballot initiatives. Print it out, stick it on your cubicle, refer to it.

But for readers who want to dig yet further, I’ve been analyzing the two unions’ most recent federally mandated labor-disclosure reports. They’re exhaustive—with the one caveat being that they’re always just little behind the times. (The National Education Association’s most recent filing represents the time period from September 1, 2012 to August 31, 2013, for instance.)

Still, these files are great ways of getting a better grasp on what the unions fund, and what they see as important. We’ll start with the NEA. (We’ll turn our attention to the American Federation of Teachers next week.)

For starters, the NEA brought in about $387 million over the 2012-13 time period mentioned above, almost entirely from dues, and spent $344 million. But just what is the union funding with all that cash? Here’s an easy breakdown, based on the federally required spending categories.

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Let’s be very clear about what these categories represent. Representational activities includes member litigation costs (probably for due-process hearings and the like), recruiting and organizing, and staff education.

The politics/lobbying category includes ballot initiative spending, lobbying, issue advocacy, and political communication with members, which under campaign-finance laws can come from unions’ general treasuries. Much of this activity isn’t reported under campaign-finance laws. These figures do not include PAC or political-party spending, which cannot come from dues. Highlights here include:

  • $400,000 to Defend Michigan Democracy, a political group opposing a ballot initiative to limit taxation in the state;
  • $1.3 million to Mack/Crounse Group LLC, a political consultancy and communcations group;
  • $1.5 million to Protect Our Jobs, a group that unsuccessfully tried to enshrine the right to collective bargaining in the Michigan constitution;
  • $1.6 million to the NEA’s Michigan affiliate for issue advocacy;
  • $585,000 to the Michigan League of Responsible Voters, another ballot-initiative interest group;
  • $5.6 million to the NEA Advocacy Fund, the union’s own “super PAC,” which funds independent expenditures and/or issue-based ads;
  • $762,000 to the New Media Firm for membership communications and education policy issue advocacy;

Now, on to the gifts and contributions category. Proportionally, this one is a bit misleading, since the category includes the union’s UniServ grants. UniServ is the union’s impressive field-service program, in which staffers help local affiliates bargain contracts, handle grievances, and provide other member services. It is quite a large expenditure for the union. (California’s UniServ program cost the NEA more than $8 million alone.)

What else is the union funding from this category? Here’s a sampler:

  • $300,000 to the Center on Teaching Quality, a policy and “teacher voice” organization;
  • $250,000 to the Economic Policy Institute, a left-leaning think tank and research shop;
  • $50,000 to the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation and $50,000 to the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute;
  • $15,000 to the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network;
  • $250,000 to the Great Lakes Center for Education, a research and advocacy group;
  • $125,000 to Health Care for America Now!, a grassroots campaign supporting the Affordable Care Act;
  • $100,000 to the National Action Network, a civil-rights organization;
  • $588,490 (a hefty sum!) to the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education, an accreditor of teacher education programs;
  • $25,000 to Netroots Nation, a convention for left-leaning political bloggers;
  • $112,000 to People for the American Way, a liberal advocacy organization;
  • $100,000 to Progressive States Action, another liberal advocacy group.

What these filings reveal is the extent of the NEA’s spending both on issues of importance like teacher education, largely left-leaning political causes (not all strictly to do with K-12 education), and legislative and state policies of interest.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Teacher Beat blog.