Twenty years ago, when I left my previous job to teach, I gave up roughly two-thirds of my salary. Why? Because I wanted to pursue my passion: teaching history to young people.
I was a reluctant member of the Naperville Unit Education Association, which is the local arm of the National Education Association, a leviathan that purports to represent 3 million teachers. For decades, I paid dues to a union that was supposed to represent my professional interests in the workplace.
Instead, I was treated like an ATM for the Democrat Party. I was being forced to fund a political agenda I didn’t support.
The NEA spends over $40 million annually on political activities and lobbying – almost all of which flows left of center.
Between 1990 and 2019, teachers unions gifted the fifth-largest amount of organizational cash to politicians running for office. Less than 1% of that money went to Republicans. The NEA contributed a staggering $143.5 million to candidates and election committees at all levels – 97% of which went straight into the pockets of Democrats. In the 2018 elections, the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) and the NEA together contributed more than $52 million.
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How does that compare with teachers’ actual political leanings? A 2019 Education Week survey found 23% of teachers are conservatives, with another 4% “very conservative.” Similarly, 24% are liberal and 4% “very liberal.” 43% are politically moderate. Teacher party affiliation broke down as 41% Democrat, 30% Independent, 27% Republican and 1% third party.
While thousands of teachers have joined me in opting out of their union since the landmark Supreme Court decision in Janus v. AFSCME, unions continue to ignore the political diversity of their members, funneling teachers’ money to progressive causes and politicians. They still prioritize a political agenda over the economic and professional needs of teachers.
Teachers unions continue to spend members’ money funding explicitly political organizations, and those contributions still cluster on just one end of the political spectrum.
The political use of millions of teachers union dues corrupts both the politicians who take our money and our profession. And when teachers aren’t receiving the representation they’re paying for – while seeing their dues support causes with little-to-no relevance to education – both teachers and students lose.
The Janus decision gave teachers the freedom to choose where our hard-earned money goes. As we learn more and more about how big labor is funding a political party with our money, it’s every teacher’s obligation to demand representation – not politicization.