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Teaching Profession

Health Care Is Top Issue in NEA Battleground Blitz

By Alyson Klein — October 06, 2008 2 min read
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So even the National Education Association doesn’t seem to be focusing much on the presidential candidates’ records or ideas on schools as the main mechanism for mobilizing its members in swing states.

A recent press release on the union’s on-the-ground campaign efforts mostly emphasizes health care over education issues, even though Sen. John McCain, the Republican nominee, has made it clear he would seek to freeze education spending if he is elected to the White House. (The NEA has endorsed Sen. Barack Obama, the Democratic nominee).

The union last week launched a get-out-the-vote effort in 10 states: Colorado, Michigan, Missouri, North Carolina, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Nevada, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Virginia. (No Florida?)

The campaign apparently includes a mailer about McCain’s “wrongheaded prescription plan for what ails America’s health care system” and a link to a new Web site,, that criticizes the plan. But there wasn’t any mention of any education-related materials, at least in the press release.

A statement from NEA President Dennis Van Roekel in the release also emphasizes health care and doesn’t say anything about education.

“Sen. McCain’s plan is further evidence that he still doesn’t understand the needs of working Americans,” Van Roekel says in the statement. “In the midst of the worst economic crisis America has seen since the Great Depression, he fails to grasp the urgency with which we need to provide more health-care coverage for the 45 million Americans who don’t have health insurance. To top it all off, his plan would pull the rug out from under employers that try to do right by their employees by paying some or all of their health care premiums.”

The release links health care costs to the economy and ultimately to schools, saying that districts have seen an uptick in the number of homeless kids and those qualifying for free and reduced-price lunches.

Still, it’s telling that even the union’s campaign efforts appear to stress economic issues over school policy, especially considering that the next president will very likely preside over the reauthorization of the No Child Left Behind Act, which the NEA has vehemently criticized.

Karen White, NEA’s political director, said last month that the union’s 3.2 million members placed the economy above education when listing the issues they are most concerned about.

“Education is not ‘typically’ behind the economy, but given gas prices, energy concerns, and economic concerns – it’s not surprising,” White wrote in an e-mail.

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