For over 165 years, the National Education Association (NEA) has used its membership, money and power to influence state and national elections and governmental policy. Despite the recent backlash regarding the NEA’s left-wing ideals, their influence is as powerful as ever, sometimes in surprising places.
Take the state of Alabama. Alabama is considered one of the most conservative states in the nation. Republicans hold every statewide elected office. Eight of the nine members of Alabama’s congressional delegation are Republicans. The state legislature consists of a Republican supermajority, with 104 out of 138 current legislators. (RELATED: EXCLUSIVE: Teachers Unions Shelled Out Millions In Members’ Dues On Political Initiatives, Lobbying)
Despite those facts, the NEA’s state chapter, the Alabama Education Association (AEA), continues to wield tremendous political power; far too often that power is not used for the betterment of Alabama’s K-12 students.
Recently, the Alabama Policy Institute conducted in-depth research into the political influence of the AEA and its PAC, Alabama Voice of Teachers for Education. Despite a 2013 Alabama Republican Party bylaw urging its members to refuse contributions from the AEA, elected officials continue to do so without recourse.
In the 2022 election cycle, members of the Alabama House of Representatives took an estimated $875,000 in campaign contributions from the AEA. Over their lifetime, currently elected House members have accepted almost $2.5 million. 86 of 103 current House members have accepted AEA dollars at some point in their legislative careers.
In the Alabama Senate, 26 of 35 current members accepted an estimated $682,500 in AEA contributions during the 2022 election cycle. In total, 28 Senators have accepted AEA money at some point in their career, totaling more than $1.5 million. Six of Alabama’s statewide elected officials have accepted $195,000 in AEA funding.
What does the AEA get for its money?
In 2023, there was optimism that Alabama might join the national movement to adopt universal educational freedom, the Parental Rights in Children’s Education (PRICE) Act. Alabama has consistently ranked amongst the bottom of the nation in reading and math scores. Despite support and a version of the bill being approved by the state’s Senate education budget committee, universal school choice was killed by AEA, a vocal opponent.
Fourteen of 16 members of Alabama’s House Education Policy Committee, which failed to take a vote on the PRICE Act, accepted AEA funding during their political careers.
Despite the continuing influence of the NEA and its state affiliates, change could be in the air. The Alabama Republican Party recently amended its bylaws to prohibit candidates for State and County School Boards and Superintendents of Education from accepting contributions from the NEA or AEA.
At the national level, Wisconsin Rep. Scott Fitzgerald recently introduced the Stopping Teachers Unions from Damaging Education Needs Today Act. If enacted, the bill would prohibit NEA from engaging in political activities or direct lobbying. The act would also prohibit NEA from calling on teachers to participate in strikes or work stoppages.
The goal is to refocus NEA on its core mission and honor its original charter: to promote education in the United States.
While there are steps being taken nationally and in Alabama to curtail the power of the NEA and its affiliates, there is more work to be done. The goal of the NEA and its affiliates should be to ensure that every child has access to the highest quality education possible, not to protect the status quo, push a leftist political agenda or influence elections.
Stephanie Holden Smith is the president and CEO of the Alabama Policy Institute.
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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