Teaching Profession

Here’s How the Nation’s Largest Teachers’ Union Is Spending Its Money

By Madeline Will — July 10, 2023 7 min read
National Education Association President Becky Pringle presides over the union’s representative assembly in Orlando, Fla., on July 3, 2023.
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During the National Education Association’s annual four-day representative assembly, thousands of educators debated and voted on dozens of measures to chart the course of the largest teachers’ union for the next year.

The 5,455 delegates in attendance also approved the union’s budget, which reflected a membership decline that leaders warned could worsen as Republican lawmakers across the country impose restrictions on how teachers’ union members pay their dues. Eliminating payroll-deduction services will have a “devastating and immediate” impact on membership, NEA President Becky Pringle warned delegates.

Delegates also approved a substantive measure to fight anti-LGBTQ+ policies, along with several smaller items that they want the NEA to prioritize over the next year.

Here are five important developments from the assembly, and what they mean for the NEA in the upcoming year.

1. The NEA sees a membership decline

The NEA says it will have about 2.3 million full-time equivalent members—which includes teachers, education support professionals, retirees, and community allies—in the 2023-24 fiscal year. (In total, the NEA has about 3 million members, but many of those are part-time teachers. For the purposes of the budget, NEA just counts full-time equivalents.)

The updated membership count is about a 1.2 percent decrease from the projected total by the end of the 2022-23 fiscal year. The decrease is driven by a reduction in members currently working in schools: The budget projects about 24,000 fewer teachers who are members, for instance, and 7,000 fewer education support professionals.

And another category of membership never fully materialized: In 2019, the NEA opened up a “community ally” category for non-educators, who could be parents or other supporters of its work. The union had expected to enroll 6,300 community allies by this fiscal year—but instead, the number is closer to 150. These members pay a $25 annual fee.

June marked five years since the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Janus v. American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees Council 31 that teachers do not have to pay “agency” or “fair-share” fees if they’re not union members. The 2018 ruling made it easier for teachers to drop their membership altogether.

The NEA lost about 115,500 members who are working teachers and school support staff from the fall of 2017 to the fall of 2022, according to federal filings that covered most of the time since Janus. Pringle said in an interview that many of those membership losses were attributed to the elimination of positions in schools due to a shrinking student population or a loss of funding—not necessarily because of the Janus decision.

But now, she said, unions are facing a more immediate threat with the proposed or enacted elimination of payroll-deduction services in about half-a-dozen states. Many members have their dues automatically deducted from their paychecks, and union leaders say that transitioning everybody over to another system will take time and potentially lose members in the process.

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Close up shot of some money overlapping a partial paystub revealing some blurred numbers and the words Total Pay, Taxes, and Deductions.
iStock/Getty
Teaching Profession Lawmakers Target How Teachers’ Unions Collect Dues
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“It’s a real threat,” Pringle told Education Week. But, she added, state and local affiliates are using the same methods of engaging their members that they did post-Janus.

“We have learned what works and what doesn’t work,” she said. “It’s hard work. And where we can, we’re filing [litigation], too, which we did in Tennessee. ... We’ll use legal, we’ll use advocacy. We’ll [look] inside and [question], OK, what could we change in terms of how we do our business in a way that we are truly organizing—not only for numbers, but for power, for strength, and for the future.”

2. The NEA’s revenue remains steady. Here’s where it’s going

Despite the membership losses, the NEA’s total revenue has remained strong, increasing slightly from last year. The union expects to collect nearly $379 million in dues this fiscal year. Members who are active teaching professionals will pay $208 in the 2023-24 school year.

The money goes toward advancing the union’s priorities and general operations. For example:

  • The NEA will spend about $2.7 million on promoting community schools and supporting their implementation.
  • The union will spend nearly $50 million to “advance and protect” the rights of educators and public schools. That includes advocacy in federal, state, and local political campaigns, litigation, and building capacity among members to bargain and organize.
  • The NEA will spend $1.1 million to try to expand the number of supporters and community allies (the non-educator membership category), including in communities of color and conservative communities.

NEA President Becky Pringle will make a salary of $337,673, a 2.1 percent increase from last year.

About $9.8 million is budgeted to support and conduct the annual NEA representative assembly.

3. Delegates voted on what the NEA should prioritize this year

Delegates spent more than $1.2 million on new business items, which set a policy for one year. Pringle warned delegates to be judicious in their spending, since the money for new business comes from the NEA’s contingency fund—a fund that also helps local or state affiliates that experience hardship as a result of legislative attacks.

The biggest-ticket item was a measure for the NEA to mobilize against legislative attacks on the LGBTQ+ community; providing professional development on using pronouns and supporting transgender students, among other areas; and strengthening contract protections for LGBTQ+ educators. That measure cost more than $580,000.

See also

A crowd gathers at the outside of the Indiana House chamber as the House Education Committee discuss House Bill 1608 at the Statehouse, Monday, Feb. 20, 2023, in Indianapolis. Indiana House Republicans advanced a bill Thursday, Feb. 23, that would require public school teachers to tell parents about students' social transitions and pronoun changes — a bill some worry will erode student-teacher trust and force children to come out to their parents before they are ready.
A crowd gathers at the outside of the Indiana House chamber on Feb. 20, 2023, as its education committee took up a bill to require teachers to disclose students' social transitions. The National Education Association recently approved new funding to counter such measures and provide guidance to its affiliates.
Darron Cummings/AP

Otherwise, delegates were wary of spending a lot of money on new business—at one point, they voted to bundle all new business items that cost more than $100,000 and refer them to a committee for review.

Here are a few of the measures that did pass:

  • The NEA will host webinars and publish articles on educational best practices for migrant children, including culturally responsive pedagogy, social-emotional support, and legislative and political updates. The cost is about $50,000.
  • The NEA will stop using the phrase “right to work” when referring to states or laws that do not require workers, even those covered by a bargained agreement, to join a union, and will instead replace it with “anti-worker,” “anti-union,” and “anti-organizing.” The cost to update those communications is $9,500.
  • The NEA will spend nearly $70,000 to promote resources that combat antisemitism and Holocaust denial.
  • The NEA will develop a bank for culturally responsive pedagogical and curricular resources, which will cost $17,800.
  • The NEA will spend $35,600 to develop materials and strategies to promote the work of school support professionals and find ways to support their professional needs.

4. Members endorsed Biden for reelection

The day after President Joe Biden announced that he would be seeking reelection, NEA leadership announced that the union would recommend Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris in the Democratic primary.

Last week, NEA delegates were asked to vote—in a secret ballot—on whether the union should endorse Biden in the general presidential election next year. About 84 percent voted yes.

Union leaders urged delegates to gear up for a competitive presidential election, with many down-ballot races carrying significant consequences for schools.

Biden and first lady Jill Biden—a teacher at a community college and an NEA member—spoke to union delegates virtually, telling them that “educators have champions in the White House.”

And U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona traveled to Florida to address delegates in person, speaking out against the “toxic disrespect” he said teachers are facing.

See also

Miguel Cardona
Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona is pictured in downtown Washington, D.C., on April 27, 2023.
Courtesy of U.S. Department of Education

5. Members discussed future meetings in red states

The NEA’s choice to hold its representative assembly in Florida, a state with restrictions on the LGBTQ+ community and on abortion rights, sparked controversy among some of its members. Some delegates didn’t attend this year’s representative assembly in protest or because they didn’t feel safe in Florida.

NEA’s procedural rules already forbid holding meetings in locations where any delegates “are likely to experience discriminatory treatment.” A proposed bylaw amendment would have added the following language: “which shall include the denial of medical services due to a delegate’s ethnicity, race, gender, sexual orientation, and/or reproductive status.”

The amendment failed in a secret-ballot vote, with 55 percent voting against it. (Bylaw amendments need two-thirds approval to go into effect.)

“Queer people exist in red states, and we will always exist in red states,” one delegate said during a debate before the vote, to applause. “What we’re not going to do is abandon our members that are there.”

NEA leadership plans to draft guidance about future meeting locations, which the board of directors will consider in November.

“As these laws evolve—and it’s not just Florida—it was time for us to take a look,” Pringle said in an interview with Education Week. “I’m not going to say we’re never going to a red state. Or if some of these onerous laws are passed [somewhere we’ve scheduled an event], I’m not going say at this moment, ‘Definitely, we’re not going there,’ because we can’t cede Florida or anywhere else.”

The NEA will hold its representative assembly in Philadelphia next year, with Portland, Ore., Denver, Indianapolis, and Kansas City, Mo., included in the list of future locations.

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