The National Education Alliance (NEA) has lost 234,000 members, or 8 percent of its membership, since 2010-2011, due to political and economic forces. Over 200,000 of those lost are classroom teachers, said NEA Secretary-Treasurer Becky Pringle during the organization’s 2013 Representative Assembly, which was held in July.
“Union membership decline reflects the crisis of educational opportunity [that] parents, students, and educators have been experiencing across the country as a result of deep state budget cuts,” says Ramona Oliver, an NEA spokesperson. “It’s not a secret that some politicians chose to cut public education funding, balance the budgets on the backs of students, and slash the education workforce, inflicting tremendous harm to our nation’s 50 million students and risking our children’s future.”
Between 2011 and 2012, the largest job losses in the U.S. were in the public sector, with educational services leading the way, Oliver adds. The NEA is the largest labor union in the United States, with about 3 million members who represent every level of education, from public school teachers to university professors.
“Over the course of the recession, somewhere between 300,000 and 500,000 people were laid off at public schools, and a significant portion of those were teachers,” says Bruce Hunter, associate executive director of the American Association of School Administrators. “I’m not surprised that the biggest union would have a drop in membership.”
The NEA had expected a bigger drop in membership of 308,000, but there were fewer job cuts in some states, Oliver says. The NEA’s revenues amounted to $345 million, higher than the expected $339 million.
“If the strength of the country’s largest labor union is in its members, then this news proves that the NEA is losing both power and influence,” says Gary Beckner, executive director of the Association of American Educators. In Wisconsin, for example, the NEA affiliate was forced to lay off half of their staff due to membership losses, he adds. And the American Federation of Teachers, the second-largest national teachers union, with 1.5 million members, lost 6,000 of its 17,000 Wisconsin members.
Despite the fact that teachers’ salaries declined last year, the NEA is increasing annual dues by $3 per member to raise more than $6 million to provide Great Public Schools Grants to NEA state and local affiliates. Such grants will support projects to boost student learning, such as Common Core implementation, anti-bullying training, and technology initiatives to improve classroom instruction, Oliver says.
Though education funding around the country may eventually be restored, “all of us in the school business need to be concerned,” says Hunter of the American Association of School Administrators. “School budgets took such a terrible beating and there are a lot fewer employees, and the workload keeps growing. At some point, it’s hard to do more with less.”