Teacher Unions, Mac the Knife, and Dollar Power

By 01/11/2012

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The poor can be bought for little or nothing, the charming scoundrel Macheath (“Mac the Knife”) discovered when his old favorite, Jenny, was persuaded by the Peachums to turn him in for a pittance.  True of the 18th Century beggars celebrated in the “Threepenny Opera,” the principle applies no less well to struggling 21st century nonprofits.

Since the National Education Association (NEA) can collect multi-millions of dollars through a check-off system that generates revenues directly from teacher paychecks (unless a teacher specifically objects), the NEA, a la Peachum, can invest in the work of less-advantaged non-profits that ostensibly have entirely different agendas.  Even a little bit of money can produce a valuable ally somewhere down the line.

During the 2010-11 fiscal year, the NEA invested $18.8 million dollars in a bewildering array of grateful non-profit groups and organizations, the Education Intelligence Agency tells us.

Some of the money goes to ostensibly independent research groups, such as a $250,000 grant to the Great Lakes Center for Education Research and Practice (which has migrated to the University of Colorado at Boulder, which received another quarter million in direct funding), a $255,000 grant to the Economic Policy Institute, a reliably pro-labor “think tank,” and a $50,000 award to Phi Delta Kappa, which publishes a journal highly protective of union interests.

Research groups connected to the Democratic mainstream also collect money from the NEA.  The Center for American Progress was given $25,000 and the Center for Tax and Budget Accountability was awarded $20,000.

Even tiny research outfits can get something:  the Global Institute for Language and Literacy Development got $18,000, while the Employee Benefit Research Institute was awarded $7,500, and Media Matters, a group that attacks conservative groups and commentators, was treated to a $100,000 gift. The anti-accountability group, FairTest, bagged $35,000.

And some money goes to those who have the potential to write stories about unions.  The Education Writers Association, for example, received a grant of $11,500.

Groups representing the interests of education schools are another NEA favorite, strengthening the symbiotic relationship between schools of education and teacher unions.  Grants were given to the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education ($400,373) and the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards ($10,000)

NEA also likes to help out pillars of the education establishment.  The Council of Chief State School Offices received $50,417; the Council of State Governments got $19,750; the Education Commission of the States was awarded $60,000; the National Parent Teachers Association was given $6,250; the Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association captured $50,000; and the Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the United States Senate was awarded $200,000.

A wide array of civil rights and minority groups appreciate the help they receive from the NEA, including the NAACP ($25,000), Congressional Black Caucus Foundation ($170,000), the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund ($10,000), the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network ($7,500), the National Women’s Law Center ($10,000),  Rainbow PUSH Coalition ($5,000), People for the American Way ($128,000), National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials Education Fund ($12,500), National Black Caucus of State Legislators ($5,500), National Association for Multicultural Education ($5,000), National Association for Equal Opportunity in Higher Education ($17,500), and something called the Hip Hop Caucus Education Fund ($10,000). No wonder it’s nearly impossible to get a civil rights coalition to take on the teacher unions.

Even Republicans can cash in.  The Ripon Society, a liberal-leaning faction within the party, got $10,000.

The list goes on and on, as you can see by checking out the link given above. The recipients, big and small, help to build a broad, diverse coalition that can be called upon by a teacher union when help is needed.  Keeping the document handy may prove helpful if one wants to understand the interstices of the debate over school reform.  As “Deep Throat” advised, “Follow the money.”  Even a little money can go a long ways.  If you don’t believe me, ask Mrs. Peachum.

-Paul Peterson

Comment on this article
  • Illinois Teacher says:

    Don’t forget, Dr. Peterson, that as unnerving as this is, in many states teachers don’t even get to choose whether or not to give their money to the NEA.

    I work in Illinois and I have no choice, regardless of my membership in the union, but to pay about $600 a year to the NEA and the IEA (Illinois Education Association).

    This is un-democratic and un-American.

  • jeffrey miller says:

    I don’t believe you. First, the non-profits to which you allude are funded, massively, by billionaires and millionaires not to mention any number of corporations profiting from testing technologies to textbooks. Second, the non-profits don’t spend a lot of time, energy, or resources recruiting actual classroom teachers. They don’t. I’ve scouted out many of the big ones looking for where and how and why they try to get real teachers to join (TFA’ers don’t count) and the funny thing is, the people they want to join are business folks and parents–anyone who can help drive reform past and over the heads of teachers.

    Listen, calling out the NEA for funding its supporters is like calling out the NRA for funding activists to stop gun control. It’s a free country. If you think the NEA is doing something illegal, unethical, or immoral then just say so and stop this bashing of people and minorities you just don’t like.

  • Clay Forsberg says:

    Your points Paul are right on. It doesn’t make any difference – Democrat or Republican cause, they all have their hands out. And the teachers unions are the ones handing out.

    I don’t see any hope, at least anytime soon, in education reform based on teacher reform. The unions will use the teacher-child connection as their go-to talking point. Going against teachers is the equivalent of going against your children.

    First, I believe education doesn’t begin and end in the K-12 system or between 8am to 3pm. Education occurs all day across the entire stakeholder spectrum – parents, friends, relatives, mentors and even the community. When we start recognizing and building these assets, we will see an increase in student performance.

    And second, I believe reform will happen on a case by case basis. Wonderful things will happen in individual classrooms with individual students. With social media and the internet in general, success stories can spread. Motivated teachers will learn how their peers are breaking through the gridlock of federal mandates and scapegoat excuses, and evolve themselves.

    Reform through these avenues won’t come via a “grand solution” put forth from Washington. I’ll happen gradually and organically. But it’s these type of changes that stick around.

  • Wini Ray, MEd says:

    This is chump change. Meanwhile, giant companies giving giant bonuses to CEO’s with our tax dollars is going on. Some people are so busy picking up pennies on the ground they don’t have a chance to see the hundred dollar bills up in the trees.

  • Anne Clark says:


    Check it out! Can’t wait to read your commentary on how defense contractors get tax dollars which they turn around and contribute to congress to get them to spend more tax dollars on defense. And they get retired military leaders to get advisory posts in the Pentagon to also make sure we spend more money on defense.

    How can we possible have defense reform if defense contractors have so many tax dollars at hand to spend on lobbying?

    Like you say – follow the money!

  • […]   While NEA is known for randomly attaching itself to a wide swath of liberal causes and sharing the wealth, it’s not clear what potential Colorado ballot measures could be drawing its attention. […]

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