Teaching Profession

The National Education Association Is Projecting a 125,000-Member Loss Due to COVID Layoffs

By Madeline Will — July 02, 2020 4 min read
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The nation’s largest teachers’ union is bracing for a significant membership decline due to the anticipated wave of teacher and staff layoffs caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

However, the union’s revenue will actually increase by about $7 million next year because of a dues increase for teachers and support employees.

In its proposed strategic plan and budget, the National Education Association says it has about 2.42 million full-time equivalent members this year. In the 2020-21 budget year, the union expects membership to fall to 2.29 million. (This number includes teachers, education support professionals, and retirees. 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 union has reported $350.4 million in tax-exempt revenue this year, which is projected to increase to $357.8 million. By 2021-22, the NEA projects its revenue will increase to $365 million.

“The value [educators] place in belonging to this union is significant, and they are willing to pay union dues to belong to that community to advocate for their colleagues and to stand up for what their kids need,” said Kim Anderson, the NEA’s executive director, in an interview.

The annual dues increase, which was determined by a formula in the union’s bylaws, amounted to $4 for teachers (raising the dues to $200 next year) and $2 for support employees (to $121.50). Much of the extra money raised from the dues increase will be delegated to the NEA’s coronavirus response actions, Anderson said.

Delegates will debate the proposed budget during their Representative Assembly on July 2 and 3. This year, the annual convention is virtual and scaled down, and it is mostly closed to the press. Delegates will vote on the budget—as well as the NEA’s endorsement of Joe Biden and the election of NEA officers—via mail-in ballots.

Membership Losses

In 2018, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that public-sector unions cannot collect fees for collective bargaining from workers who decline to join the union. The decision caused the loss of nearly 90,000 fee-payers for the NEA and made it easier for teachers to leave the union. Previously, the mandatory fees were only slightly cheaper than union dues, so teachers often just kicked in the extra few dollars to become full members.

Since then, the NEA has indeed lost thousands of members, but the losses were not as significant as predicted.

“We thought we could lose anywhere from 150,000 members,” Anderson said, adding that those projections did not come to fruition. “People are desperate to belong to a community and feel a sense of connectedness.”

In its latest financial report, the NEA released its membership numbers by state for the years 2017-18 and 2018-19. The union lost about 30,000 total members, with significant losses in California and Michigan. (The California membership loss was largely due to the California Faculty Association cutting ties with the California Teachers Association.) New York and Montana had sizeable membership growth, which helped offset some of the losses.

Now, the NEA is preparing to lose even more members due to teacher and staff layoffs. As states cut their budgets in a coronavirus-inflicted economic downturn, school districts that rely on state funding will have to lay employees off. One analysis from the Learning Policy Institute predicted that 320,000 teaching jobs could be lost if states cut their education budgets by 15 percent.

Anderson said the NEA is lobbying the Senate to pass the Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions, or the HEROES Act, which passed the House last month and would include $58 billion in direct aid for K-12 school districts. Still, she added, “our budget is not based upon the generosity of the Senate.”

The HEROES Act has faced an icy reception in the Senate. Earlier this week, Senate Democrats unveiled the $430 billion Coronavirus Child Care and Education Relief Act, which would require states who use the relief package not to cut their own education budgets for three years.

Grants to ‘Recover and Advance’ From COVID-19

In the 2020-21 budget year, the NEA plans to use $5.5 million of its extra revenue from the dues increase to address the impact of the coronavirus. This money will be given to local and state affiliates who apply for it.

“We want to make sure we can provide grants to state affiliates and local affiliates to do more than just recover—we want them to recover and advance,” Anderson said, adding that money can go toward “whatever the need is on the ground.”

NEA Secretary-Treasurer Princess Moss said in an open hearing on the proposed budget that the money could be used for trainings for members, building technical capacities, offering professional development around trauma-informed instruction, and other community work. It could also be used to support virtual member organizing.

“We don’t know all of the needs, and we won’t know,” she said. “But what we do know is that we need to provide assistance to our members and our affiliates.”

In addition to approving this two-year budget this week, NEA delegates will elect a new president. NEA Vice President Becky Pringle, who is expected to win, is running against special education teacher Mark Airgood and 8th grade teacher Mark Norberg. Outgoing NEA President Lily Eskelsen García spoke to Education Week about her six-year tenure; read the interview here.

Image: iStock/Getty Images Plus

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Teaching Now blog.