Teachers flee nation’s largest union in a crisis of its own making


For the sixth year in a row, the National Education Association (NEA) faces a mass exodus of members. But the blame doesn’t lie with a shrinking student population or loss of funding, as NEA president Becky Pringle would have you believe. The NEA’s blatant prioritization of a radical political agenda at the expense of member representation is the true culprit, resulting in a loss of more than 12,000 members in 2023, per the union’s latest financial report.

Union membership rates have been on the downturn for decades. Unluckily for Big Labor, the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Janus v. AFSCME (2018), which firmly recognized the First Amendment right of public employees to leave union membership behind, accelerated this downward trend.

The NEA’s strategy to retain members and, by extension, steady cash flow, relies on keeping teachers in the dark about the First Amendment rights affirmed in Janus. When the union isn’t mischaracterizing the ruling as a ploy to “take away the freedom of…working people,” its state affiliates, such as the California Teachers Association, support legislation prohibiting employers from speaking to union members about their freedom of association rights.

Further, NEA consistently advocates for the repeal of popular right-t-work laws, which would force employees across the nation to maintain union membership or face termination.

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It’s fitting the NEA prefers its members exercise their First Amendment rights to “engage in political activity” and “support student activism,” instead. The union’s latest financial report says the quiet part out loud: NEA’s political agenda is more important than workplace rights. 

During the 2023 school year, NEA funneled a whopping $176 million of dues revenue directly from teacher paychecks to the pockets of political candidates and ideological causes. Spending in support of the union’s political agenda constituted 34% of NEA’s 2023 budget, while a measly 8% subsidized “representational activities.”

FILE – January 31: National Education Association President Becky Pringle takes photos with Newton Public School educators as they rally together on the lawn of Newton’s Education Center, marking the ninth day of their strike. The union incurred a $50,000-per-day court-imposed fine for not calling off the strike, which is illegal under state law. (Photo by Erin Clark/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

Unsurprisingly, recipients of NEA’s significant political contributions do little for the workplace rights of teachers, either. The For Our Future Action Fund, for example, received upwards of $3 million from the union to build “progressive power through voter engagement, issue advocacy and community organizing” with a focus on social justice and climate change.

Education International, which also received a $3 million check from NEA, aims to take the union’s left-wing priorities globally.

NEA’s staff benefited from rising membership dues, too. NEA president Becky Pringle was paid $495,787 in 2023, $46,250 more than the prior year. By comparison, according to the NEA, the average starting teacher salary is $42,844.

Kamala Harris and Becky Pringle

Vice President Kamala Harris, right, waves with Becky Pringle, president of the National Education Association, at the National Education Association 2022 annual meeting and representative assembly in Chicago on Tuesday, July 5, 2022. (Tannen Maury/EPA/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

It’s clear that the NEA has become little more than an ideologically divisive political advocacy group attempting to capitalize on the workplace concerns of educators. Luckily, teachers are paying attention. In an era of steady hiring in public schools, the 2023 school year nevertheless saw NEA’s membership decline by 12,287, bringing the union’s total losses since the Janus decision to more than 220,000.

If it were up to NEA, teachers would remain unaware of their right to walk away from a union that no longer serves them. Fortunately, my organization, the Freedom Foundation understands that, when teachers are properly informed about their First Amendment rights, they opt out of union membership by the hundreds of thousands. Which is exactly what’s happened to the NEA and other government unions for the past 6 years.

So long as NEA’s power-hungry political agenda distracts its leadership from refocusing on issues in the classroom, it’s only a matter of time before membership losses push the union past the point of no return.

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