by Jack Minor
The National Education Association recently endorsed Barack Obama for president. This endorsement comes a full year earlier than is normal and prior to a single Republican primary being held.
At the NEA’s annual meeting in Chicago, the representative assembly passed a resolution endorsing Barack Obama with 72% of the vote.
In announcing the endorsement on their website, the NEA acknowledged the early endorsement was unusual, but said they did so in order to provide additional assistance to the President. “The Association’s presidential recommendation process typically takes place the summer before the general election. NEA initiated this timetable in order to provide early and strong support to help ensure the election of a candidate who is on the side of students and working families.”
In a statement that appeared to be aimed at elected officials trying to reign in government spending, NEA President Dennis Van Roekel stated “The last two years of state legislatures and the mid-term elections were eye-opening, demonstrating what can happen when education legislation and decisions are left in the hands of politicians who do not support public schools.” Van Roekal continued, “We as a nation have to get our priorities right. We cannot sacrifice our students’ futures by shortchanging them now.”
Van Roekel went on to say it was important for the NEA to support Obama because of his vision for the country. “There are two very distinct visions for this country, one is about opportunities for all and one is not.” Van Roekel said. “This vote is about choosing a vision that our members know is best for students, for public schools and for America.”
Brian Britton, head of the Greeley 9-12 project, took issue with Van Roeckel’s statements, saying, “This is nothing more than a scare tactic. Van Roeckel and the NEA are failing the children so miserably, how can they accuse the right of anything. Let their record speak for itself.”
Britton did say he agrees with Van Roekel’s statement about two visions. “I agree that there is one group that supports opportunities for all, but it is not the NEA. They are for equal outcomes for all, not equal opportunities.” Britton went on to say the Atlanta testing scandal is a prime example. “They weren’t doing those kids any favors by helping them pass the test. Where was the equal opportunity in that?”
The Association of American Educators said the NEA conference was akin to a political convention, complete with countless speeches, confetti and deafening music. Attendance was less than 7,500 delegates, the fewest since 1998.
The NEA is facing issues including a $14 million budget shortfall and the loss of over 39,000 active members since 2010. Union leadership has predicted a further membership decline of 60,000 teachers this year alone.
In addition to the Obama endorsement, the NEA also approved a measure doubling the individual member’s annual assessment from $10 to $20. The assessment is a political action contribution to support ballot initiatives for national and statewide media buys.
While the PAC cannot legally support political campaigns, it can use the funds to support messaging and action against issues contrary to their goals. These types of ads do not actually endorse a candidate, but can mention a specific issue and advise people to call a candidate and ask them to explain their position.