The National Education Association is arming for battle with parents, schools, and the federal government over choice and accountability provisions embedded in the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, better known as the No Child Left Behind Act.
Scott Howard, superintendent of Perry, Ohio Public Schools, quoted at the NEA 2002 Representative Assembly session in Dallas this summer, compared the act to a Russian novel: “It’s long, it’s complicated, and in the end, everyone gets killed.”
This summer’s NEA convention addressed many concerns of professional educators, repeatedly stressing the need to collaborate with others who support public education, describing teaching as a patriotic duty, and alerting members to the need to mobilize to elect pro-public education candidates to public office.
Another area of concern was the desire to incorporate a wider range of employees into the NEA. Early-childhood workers are one of the groups that NEA seeks to represent. “There’s a potential for membership out there,” said Patricia Reeves of Tennessee, who believes that, especially in public schools or where early-childhood programs were add-ons, employees need to be organized under NEA. JoAnn Falk, education support professional of the year, urged those in the English for Specific Purposes program to work together to strive for better working conditions, job security, and respect for support personnel. Conference participants had an opportunity to gather information and to discuss various issues surrounding the new law, the workplace, and the influence of NEA in shaping the future of American education. Sen. James Jeffords of Vermont was named the NEA friend of education recipient for his efforts to fight vouchers and cuts to federal education funding. With its Legislative Program, the NEA takes an active role in responding to issues that affect the quality of public education, student achievement, the rights of employees in the workplace, and other policy concerns. “We strive to create a program that gives lobbyists the flexibility they need to respond to emerging issues,” said Gail Rasmussen of the Standing Committee on Legislation
Resolutions and issues with the act
Resolutions adopted at the convention cover a broad range of areas, including the federal law, public financial support of schooling; nontraditional school options; early- childhood education; immigrant education; issues of gender, diversity, health, environment, and philosophy; comprehensive social services; licensing; and evaluation of teachers and education employees; religion; violence; and school-to-work policies.
Federal law and federal funding are two of the largest issues on the NEA agenda. While the NEA takes the position that the No Child Left Behind Act is a great threat to the union, and that its members need to galvanize to oppose provisions that shift power from the union, resolutions A-14 and A-15 advocate substantial increases in federal funding for programs. The NEA is expressly opposed to distributing that funding among states, particularly since states may opt to use them for sectarian or private schools. “The Association opposes providing any public revenues to sectarian pre-K through 12 schools,” and “The Association opposes any federal legislation, laws, or regulations that provide funds, goods, or services to sectarian schools…”
The NEA’s position on any property used by the public school system has also been decided in the new resolutions. Public school property is treated not as public property, but as exclusive property of the public schools. The association believes that closed public school buildings should be sold or leased only to those organizations that do not provide direct educational services to students and/or are not in direct competition with the public schools. Since the association believes that voucher plans, tuition tax credits, or other funding arrangements that use tax monies to subsidize pre-K through the 12th grade in private schools can undermine public education, the NEA clearly believes that opportunities to provide direct instruction outside public schools should be limited to those who do not need to rely on tax credits, vouchers, and the like. Nevertheless, the NEA states in resolution A-24 that the availability of such tax credits, vouchers, or other funding mechanisms that use tax monies will weaken the wall between church and state, and cause racial, economic, and social segregation of students.
Union fears loss of control
Charter and nontraditional schools, including home schools, are inadequate in a number of ways, according to the 2002 resolutions. Current charter school laws give too little control to union members, resolution A-30 states. “When concepts such as charter schools and other nontraditional school options are proposed, all affected public education employees must be directly involved in the design, implementation, and governance of these programs.”
Home schools are also suspect. NEA resolution B-69 says home schools cannot provide a comprehensive education experience. NEA officials lobby to bring home schools under the scrutiny and control of state boards of education, stating, “When home schooling occurs, students enrolled must meet all state requirements. Instruction should be by persons who are licensed by the appropriate licensure agency, and a curriculum approved by the state department of education should be used. The Association believes that home-schooled students should not participate in any extracurricular activities in public schools.”
Palasek is assistant editor of Carolina Journal.