TEA not the only choice for teacher representation
Greg Johnson knoxnews.com
Gov. Bill Haslam wants to change tenure laws. Bills before the Republican-controlled Legislature could end collective bargaining and payroll deduction of dues for the teachers' union. Tennessee teachers are in a political battle, a battle the teachers chose.
By joining the Tennessee Education Association, teachers give tacit, if not implicit, approval to TEA's political agenda. Last year, TEA chose - with concerted aforethought - to give almost 93 percent of its political contributions to Democrats. TEA fired the first political shot. Now TEA feigns shock when politics doesn't go its way.
When teachers choose to join TEA, they also choose the National Education Association. Since a portion of dues go to NEA, teachers give tacit, if not implicit, approval to the political agenda of NEA. And what a political agenda it is.
In 2010, NEA bragged on its website, "The Association has increased its independent (political) expenditure campaign from $15 million to $17 million." NEA used some of those dollars to attack Republicans.
Tennessee teachers helped NEA fund blatantly noneducational purposes. IRS Form 990 for 2008 (the latest year available) shows NEA gave $300,000 to Healthcare for America Now, an advocacy group promoting Obamacare. NEA also gave $25,000 to the Democratic Leadership Council.
The NAACP received $50,000 from NEA while the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force got $15,000. NEA gave money to the Center for American Progress, Campaign for America's Future and the Economic Policy Institute, left-wing think tanks all. NEA gave $90,000 to the National Public Pension Coalition, an outfit founded to protect public employee pensions.
But Tennessee teachers have a choice. They don't have to join TEA and NEA. Teachers seeking representation can choose Professional Educators of Tennessee.
Executive Director J.C. Bowman, who served as chief education policy analyst for Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, told me in an interview PET does not make political contributions. "If they're noneducational issues, we're not involved," Bowman said. "When you walk into a school, you're not a Republican or a Democrat. You're a teacher."
PET, founded in 1990, bills itself as "a professional association of educators that embraces the responsibility of bringing honor to the teaching profession" and says its primary mission is "to create a quality educational experience in a safe environment for our students." PET employs lobbyists, but not for partisan purposes. "Twenty percent are hyper-partisan on either side," Bowman said. "Most teachers are in the middle. We will work with both parties."
Bowman touted PET's dues, which are $149 per year compared to more than $500 for TEA. "We don't have to send any dollars up to a national organization," Bowman said. "All (dues) dollars stay in the state." Noting a chief concern of educators, Bowman said, "We offer great liability (insurance) protection for teachers."
PET's membership is about 5,000 compared to TEA's 52,000. Collective bargaining agreements protect TEA and inhibit PET. TEA is eligible for payroll deduction of dues. PET is not.
"We'd like to see collective bargaining rolled back, if not completely done away with," Bowman said. "We support collaborative bargaining with every side at the table."
Tennessee teachers have a choice. They can continue to fund the left-wing ways of TEA and NEA. Or they can choose a new way in this new political day.