Teaching Profession

What Happened—and What Didn’t—at This Year’s NEA Representative Assembly

By Brooke Schultz — July 09, 2024 5 min read
Protestors gather outside of the Pennsylvania Convention Center in Philadelphia on Wednesday, July 3, 2024, during the NEA Annual Meeting and Representative Assembly.
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The unusual ending of the biggest assembly for the nation’s largest teachers’ union after its staff members went on strike led to an incomplete, and largely unprecedented, annual meeting, with loose strings still to tie: a budget, and nearly 100 new business items that delegates weren’t able to debate on the floor.

The abrupt conclusion of the usually four-day National Education Association representative assembly—this year hosted in Philadelphia—kept the roughly 6,000 delegates from grappling at length about particularly tense topics, hearing from the union’s chosen nominee for the November presidential election, and conducting its usual business.

Here’s a look at what did—and didn’t—happen at this year’s representative assembly.

1. Delegates voted to suspend the rules, meaning matters will be decided by mail-in ballot

Aware a strike could be imminent, NEA President Becky Pringle asked delegates to suspend the rules to vote by mail-in ballot on the elections, constitution and bylaw amendments, the strategic plan, and the budget.

But a large portion of the representative assembly is new business items, or NBIs. A new business item directs the union to do something for one year; it is not a permanent statement of belief for the union. The items, which take 50 delegates to propose before the floor, can run the gamut on topic and scope.

Delegates voted on fewer than 10 of about 115 that were submitted for debate before the strike shut down the assembly. The more than 100 others are being referred to the board of directors, composed of more than a hundred members, for consideration.

The NEA said there was no timeline established for handling those matters yet.

2. The union took a stance on artificial intelligence in the classroom

In perhaps the most significant decision of the abbreviated assembly, delegates voted to approve a new policy statement with recommendations on how educators should work with artificial intelligence in the classroom.

The policy seeks to broadly offer guidance to educators. It looks at the issues of equity, data protection, and environmental impact, and pushes for educators to be involved in discussions about implementation in classrooms. It emphasizes the centrality of humans for teaching, however, arguing that AI shouldn’t be used to replace jobs of educators, or learning.

The policy statement came after months of work from a task force, which was convened during last year’s representative assembly. The topic surfaced so much then, Pringle decided it was something educators needed to dig into.

“I am so proud of the work of this task force,” Pringle told delegates after they affirmed the policy.

3. Delegates pass a handful of measures, concerning LGBTQ+ rights, labor rights

Held in Orlando, Fla., last year, the representative assembly was steeped in discussion of LGBTQ+ rights. NBIs proposed this year showed the issue remains top of mind for educators.

An NBI directing the NEA to update the “What to Know about State Anti-Trans Laws” resource on its website, and maintain the link monthly, passed. The measure will cost roughly $31,000.

Delegates also approved a measure to add a section to the union’s website listing all NEA supports available to LGBTQ+ members, including a list of the states where LGBTQ+ curriculum is required, and where it is banned. It also directs the NEA to include mental health resources, and resources for districts and allies to support LGBTQ+ educators on the website. It had an estimated cost of $99,000.

Other measures the delegates passed included an item for the NEA to create an online portal for enhanced transparency about funding for the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, and push for the full funding of IDEA by Congress. It is projected to cost $36,250. They also approved a measure seeking to increase transparency of NEA budgetary spending, with no fiscal impact expected.

Delegates also approved an item that would have the NEA assist local bargaining units by creating a common definition of strike and action readiness, and helping provide training and guidance on strike and action readiness. It is projected to cost $51,000.

4. Palestine and antisemitism loomed large at the conference—but weren’t ever formally discussed

In an open letter to delegates, Pringle acknowledged that “the desperate situation in Gaza and the rising anti-Semitism, anti-Arab hate, and anti-Muslim hate we are witnessing across our nation and globally” was weighing on educators, and likely would heavily factor into this year’s representative assembly.

It did: Protestors decrying the Israel-Hamas war and its toll on Palestine and Gaza gathered outside of the Pennsylvania Convention Center the night before the assembly began, pushing educators to adopt a number of NBIs that supported Palestine. Counter protestors convened paces away, separated by police.

There were more than a dozen NBIs submitted on the topic, none of which were ultimately discussed. Pringle said delegates would vote on them all together, setting aside a handful on the first day for discussion together on subsequent voting days that never came.

5. The strike dashed political aims of the union—including an expected speech from President Joe Biden

In her address to delegates, Pringle emphasized the importance of the upcoming November election and the effort to “win all the things,” calling on the delegates to re-elect Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris to the White House. The union had voted last year to endorse him.

“Our work must be about electing people who care about our students, our educators, our families, and our communities. Our nation’s future,” she said, calling the Biden administration the “strongest champions of public education, of educators, of the labor movement in the history of this country.”

“We must—and we will—leave this city committed to doing whatever it takes to build the path that will create more justice and equity for our students, more respect and dignity for our colleagues, and build a better nation for us all,” she said.

Biden was expected to address delegates on the last day of the assembly, as part of a flurry of public appearances following a dismal debate performance that brought forth concerns from his own party about his mental fitness.

But Biden declined to cross the picket line after staff members walked out, instead taking his campaigning efforts elsewhere in Pennsylvania.

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