The NEA’s public employee teachers are no longer failing upward.
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But it’s a series of scandals and miscues among NEA locals — and how the union’s national leadership has dealt with them — that may serve as the klaxon for teachers everywhere.
Last year, the NEA was forced to take control of the Indiana State Teachers Association after the affiliate’s Voluntary Employee Benefit Association went insolvent amid a $67 million deficit and alleged financial mismanagement. The 50,000 members covered under the plan were miffed that ISTA didn’t admit the failure until the day it announced the NEA takeover; they were disgusted after the parent union successfully increased their $449 annual dues by another $40 in order to cover the insolvency. Four members have state and federal class action suits pending against the union and the NEA demanding recovery of damages (federal and state investigations are also ongoing).
In Hawaii, the insurance division of the NEA affiliate there was forced to file for liquidation after failing to fully report its income to the state and the Internal Revenue Service. Despite being overseen by a board appointed by the affiliate’s leadership, the NEA local admitted that the HSTA Member Benefit Corp. was “grossly mismanaged” to the point of owing $400,000 in back taxes and interest. Hawaii’s state legislative auditor also complained that an insurance trust managed by the union didn’t provide documentation needed for analysis in its annual report.
The collapse of the NEA’s South Carolina affiliate may be illustrative of how teachers may organize themselves in the future. Even as the union lost members, the Palmetto State Teachers Association has grown as a strong presence in the state. Unlike the NEA, the association proclaims that it eschews collective bargaining (likely because South Carolina is one of the easiest states to attain near-lifetime employment through tenure, with just two years of time on the job). It also touts the fact that its members were named state Teacher of the Year for 14 of the last 15 years.
Certainly the NEA will remain an influential force in public education for the time being. But the future may be darker than the skin of a salamander.
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