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Gary Beckner op-ed on ACORN
posted by: Colin | October 06, 2009, 07:38 PM   

AAE Executive Director Gary Beckner op-ed on the ACORN scandal’s implications for the NEA and teachers across America in the Buffalo News:

By now we are all familiar with the ACORN videotape scandal in which the community organizer was busted for offering advice about how to circumvent the law. What many may not know is that the nation’s largest teacher union, the National Education Association, has been a regular donor to ACORN since 2002.

You may ask: Why would school teachers, to whom we entrust our nation’s most valuable commodity, fund a controversial political organization that was caught on video giving tax advice to a couple posing as a child prostitution operation? The fact is that most teachers do not know that they have been funding ACORN through their dues.

The NEA has a unified membership system in which a member must join the local, state and national unions. As part of this system, a portion of annual union dues that educators pay to their state and local associations is automatically forwarded to the national arm. For the 2008-09 school year, that amount was $162 for every active NEA member.

Most union members think their dues are spent on assisting children and enhancing the teaching profession. But ACORN is just one of many organizations that receive funding from the NEA that have little or no connection to supporting children or teachers.

While the NEA has condemned ACORN employee actions, the NEA is missing the bigger point. A true professional association, especially one that represents school teachers, should not use members’ dues to fund ACORNesque organizations.

But the NEA has a long history of giving millions of dollars to organizations that have nothing to do with education, nothing to do with promoting public schools and nothing to do with advancing the teaching profession — groups such as Jesse Jackson’s Rainbow PUSH Coalition, the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation and Amnesty International.

The California Teacher Empowerment Network was founded by former NEA members who now are educating the educator about how to opt out of paying for union politics. Further, alternative teacher membership organizations such as the Association of American Educators have surfaced, offering educators professional benefits without funding political causes.

While the $400,000 given to ACORN by the NEA represents a mere percentage of members’ dues sent to similar organizations, the ACORN debacle should have NEA leadership rethinking to whom and why they give away their members’ money. Instead we are seeing more of the same from the teacher union as it defended the good work of ACORN in a recent press release.

And why should the NEA change? According to a 2008 study by the National Institute for Labor Relations, the organization collects nearly $2 billion a year in dues. Unless their members demand it, the only change NEA members will see is the coins left in their pockets.

Gary Beckner is the executive director of the Association of American Educators.

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