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More teachers breaking up with leftist union

The National Education Association reported a continued decline in membership this year

President Joe Biden speaks with National Education Association President Becky Pringle at an NEA meeting in Washington on July 2. Associated Press/Photo by Patrick Semansky

More teachers breaking up with leftist union

Tracy Hiebert joined the National Education Association (NEA) when she took her first teaching job out of college. She wanted to be a first grade teacher ever since her own first grade experience. “I just thought that first grade was the best,” she said.

Today, Hiebert is 56 and still teaches first grade in the Burnsville-Eagan-Savage school district in Minnesota. But she is no longer a member of the NEA. She left the union in 2018 after, she said, she became aware of the organization’s left-leaning politics.

Hiebert is one of thousands of U.S. teachers who have parted ways with the NEA in recent years. According to the association’s annual report to the Department of Labor late last month, the NEA now has 2,909,690 members on its rolls. That’s a drop of more than 65,000 since 2019, when the union reported 2,975,933 members.

As NEA membership has declined, some alternative organizations have reported strong growth. The Ohio-based Christian Educators Association International, a professional organization that provides liability coverage, has seen a membership growth surge of 25 percent this year, executive director David Schmus said.

The National Education Association was founded as the National Teachers Association in 1857, eventually taking on its current name in 1870. In recent years, the teachers union has often donated significant funds to political causes. In July, The Wall Street Journal editorial board listed 2021 NEA Convention business items about topics such as critical race theory and anti-racism. The NEA’s own 2021 “Legislative Program” notes the organization’s support for “reproductive freedom without governmental intervention,” and the NEA has donated money directly to Planned Parenthood.

Hiebert, now 56, left her teaching job to stay home with her daughters for nine years but then returned. At first, she didn’t rejoin the NEA because she’d heard it supported pro-abortion political candidates. Instead, Hiebert paid for liability coverage through her family’s insurance provider. Even as a nonunion member, she was still required to pay at least 75 percent of her dues.

Over the years, Hiebert began to worry that lawsuits were becoming more prevalent, so she eventually decided to rejoin the NEA for legal protection. “I was almost paying for the whole thing anyway,” she said.

Things changed in 2018, when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Janus v. AFSCME that public employees could not be forced to join a union. Although Hiebert wanted to continue supporting her local union, the union president told her she couldn’t without also being a part of the state and national unions.

But Hiebert was concerned the union supportd critical race theory, LGBTQ issues, and inappropriate sex education. Finding out that Planned Parenthood receives money from NEA, she said, was “the last straw.” She decided to drop her membership.

Similarly, Schmus joined the NEA upon becoming a teacher in California in 2000, but he quit the union after realizing that money from his dues supported causes such as gay marriage. Like Hiebert, Schmus was still required to pay most of the dues because of state laws about unions.

He also points to Janus as a turning point for teachers—and for the growth of CEAI. “In the year following Janus, we experienced more like about 2 percent growth, and then the next year more like about 6 percent growth,” he said.

According to Schmus, many of his group’s new members are also leaving the NEA, often due to concerns about vaccine mandates, critical race theory, or pro-transgender policies. He said CEAI is seeing its biggest growth in membership in states that, before Janus, required public employees to join unions: In Minnesota, CEAI membership has grown 470 percent, he said.

Chester Finn, president emeritus and senior fellow at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, said the NEA has concerned itself too much with its members and too little with schoolchildren and families. He said the NEA’s push for extended school closures during the pandemic showed its priorities. “We know from all kinds of data that being kept at home and online during the pandemic has been devastatingly damaging on many fronts to kids across the country, especially for minority kids,” he said. “And yet, both teacher unions, the NEA and the [American Federation of Teachers], were pushing pretty hard for schools to stay closed.”

Hiebert has been a member of CEAI for several years now. She said leaving the NEA became her only viable option after she learned what her dues were supporting. “I think they have become more of a political organization instead of really focused on student learning,” she said. “I have to do what I know is right for me.”

Lauren Dunn

Lauren covers education for WORLD’s digital, print, and podcast platforms. She is a graduate of Thomas Edison State University and World Journalism Institute, and she lives in Wichita, Kan.

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