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AARON WITHE: Congress Can Rein In Out-Of-Control Teachers’ Union

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Aaron Withe Contributor
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It’s a little-known fact that many prominent American organizations and institutions—from the U.S. Olympic Committee to the Veterans of Foreign Wars—are federally chartered, meaning Congress has passed legislation explicitly recognizing them as “patriotic or national organizations.”

The longstanding practice of issuing federal charters has not been without controversy. As the Congressional Research Service explains, congressional committees with jurisdiction over federal charters have at times “determined that the congressional recognition that charters conferred on meritorious groups was outweighed by the resource costs and the potential for unsupervised chartered groups to engage in activities that might harm the public and reflect poorly on Congress.”

At least in the case of the National Education Association (NEA), such concerns have proven to be well-founded. (RELATED: STONE A. WASHINGTON: Don’t Stop At College — End Race-Based Admissions In Public Schools)

The NEA is not only the nation’s largest teachers’ union, it is the largest union of any kind and the only one with a federal charter.

Unfortunately, the NEA has strayed far from its original purpose, veering instead into partisan political advocacy for a comprehensive progressive social and economic agenda at odds with many Americans’ values.

To cite only a handful of examples:

  • NEA President Rebecca Pringle wasted little time weighing in on behalf of the union following the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2022 ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson, which overturned Roe v. Wade and returned the abortion question to individual states;
  • the NEA quietly published a gender ideology resource guide, “Schools in Transition,” in 2015 that laid the groundwork for some of the most extreme positions on gendered bathrooms, high school sports and pronoun usage confounding parents and teachers across the country;
  • the NEA at its 2020 annual convention debated a resolution recognizing Palestinian sovereignty before it was ultimately defeated;
  • the union claims there is a scientific consensus on climate change, unreservedly supporting radical legislation to address it; and,
  • even such nakedly political considerations as Congress wrangling over the debt ceiling are apparently within the NEA’s purview.

But that could change soon depending on the fate of a bill introduced last month by Rep. Scott Fitzgerald (R.-Wis.). Dubbed the “Stopping Teachers Unions from Damaging Education Needs Today” (STUDENT) Act, the measure would overhaul the NEA’s 117-year-old federal charter by adding a series of accountability and transparency provisions, many of which are already commonly found in other federal charters. (RELATED: PETER ROFF: Only Parents Can Solve America’s Education Crisis)

In addition to compelling the NEA to open its books to congressional scrutiny every year, the STUDENT Act would, among other things:

  • require the group to notify teachers of their First Amendment right to decline union membership and dues;
  • bar the NEA from having public agencies deduct union dues from teachers’ paychecks;
  • prevent NEA from engaging in political activities and lobbying;
  • prohibit NEA affiliates from harming students and families with school-shuttering walkouts;
  • impose a requirement that NEA officers be U.S. citizens; and,
  • repeal a unique-to-NEA D.C. tax break.

Constitutionally and legally, teachers have every right to be represented by a union, and the NEA is fully entitled to be that union if its voluntary, dues-paying members want it that way. But the organization has long since dropped the pretext of being an apolitical advocate for better education. 

Decades of militant activism on the farthest fringe of only one end of the political spectrum completely disqualify NEA from assuming the mantel of near-universal acceptance conferred by a federal charter. 

Simply put, the NEA is flying under false colors. A national charter is regarded as an assurance the designee has the tacit approval of Congress.

Very little the union has done or stood for in recent years warrants such status, but the reforms proposed by the STUDENT Act would go a long way toward again making the NEA an organization most Americans can at least tolerate, if not support.

Aaron Withe is the CEO of the Freedom Foundation,

The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of the Daily Caller News Foundation.

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