(WASHINGTON, D.C.) — U.S. Rep. Scott Fitzgerald (WI-05) has introduced legislation to reform the federal charter of the National Education Association (NEA), the nation’s largest teachers’ union.
Fitzgerald’s bill — dubbed the “Stop Teachers Unions from Damaging Education Needs Today” (STUDENT) Act — includes a package of changes supported by the Freedom Foundation.
Freedom Foundation CEO Aaron Withe released the following statement praising Rep. Fitzgerald for his bold leadership:
“The Freedom Foundation applauds Rep. Fitzgerald for his proposed legislation to update and overhaul the NEA’s 117-year-old federal charter. The union is no longer a professional association. It’s not an advocate for quality education. It’s not even merely the largest teachers’ union in the country. First and foremost, it is a partisan political machine. But the futures of the millions of schoolchildren reliant on public education are far too important to be subject to the control and ideological extremism of the NEA. The innovative, practical reforms proposed by Rep. Fitzgerald would go a long way towards curbing the NEA’s most objectionable conduct, refocusing the organization on its original and appropriate mission of improving America’s education system, and again making the NEA the kind of unifying organization that deserves a federal charter.”
Fitzgerald and Withe announced the STUDENT Act in an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal published Tuesday.
The NEA incorporated in the District of Columbia in 1886 and received its federal charter in 1906, when it was more professional association than labor union. Today, among the 95 “patriotic and national organizations” with federal charters — such as the Boy Scouts, the U.S. Olympic Committee and the Veterans of Foreign Wars — the NEA stands out both as the only labor union and as a lightning rod for controversy given its partisan politics and divisive social advocacy.
Further, because its charter allows it to determine all substantive questions of its own governance and operation, the NEA enjoys the recognition a charter confers without having to abide by the regulations found in many other federal charters.
Though legislation has previously been introduced to repeal the NEA’s federal charter, the action would neither strip the union of its corporate existence nor meaningfully require it to alter its operations because its incorporation in the District of Columbia preceded and exists concurrently with its federal charter.
The STUDENT Act marks the first time overhauling the NEA’s charter has been proposed in Congress.
Some of the reforms include:
- prohibiting the NEA from engaging in electoral politics and lobbying, a restriction included in 60 percent of federal charters;
- requiring the NEA to submit an annual report to Congress;
- fully repealing the NEA’s D.C. property tax exemption;
- prohibiting the NEA from collecting dues from a public employee unless the employee has been notified of his or her right to refuse — and affirmatively consented — and require the NEA to collect dues without the use of government payroll systems;
- prohibiting taxpayer-funded release time for NEA officers;
- barring the NEA from incorporating the core tenets of Critical Race Theory into its governance, operations and advocacy;
- subjecting the NEA and its affiliates to the financial transparency requirements and union democracy protections of the Labor-Management Reporting and Disclosure Act; and,
- requiring the NEA to refrain from initiating, and to actively intervene to prevent, any strikes or work stoppages by its affiliates.
Together, these reforms would help ensure the NEA lives up to the high ideals expected of federally chartered “patriotic and national organizations.”
NEA-represented public-school teachers also spoke out in support of the STUDENT Act:
“It’s clear the NEA’s federal charter needs significant reform. This bill addresses the major discrepancies between the NEA’s federal charter and those of other federally chartered organizations. As an NEA-represented educator in the public school system, I firmly believe the nation’s largest teachers’ union should conduct its affairs with honesty, patriotism, transparency, balance and accountability, and without partisanship. The fact that it so often fails to do so is a direct function of the lack of standards in NEA’s current charter. I fully support reforming the NEA charter to shift its priorities from protecting its political power to serving its members and American students.”Karin Majewski, Pennsylvania
“Federal charters should be granted only to unifying organizations that Americans can broadly support, not political advocacy groups like the NEA that seek to undermine traditional American ideals. It’s bad enough the NEA exerts so much influence over what students are taught in the classroom, but the sad reality is that it has evolved into an ideological organization with an agenda to remake and control nearly every aspect of American life and policy. As a public school teacher who has been represented by an NEA affiliate for 18 years, I strongly believe the NEA needs a top-to-bottom overhaul in order to remain worthy of its federal charter. At minimum, it should have to abide by the important reforms in the STUDENT Act.”Stacy Adair, Colorado
“As an NEA-represented public-school teacher of 22 years, I am in full support of the STUDENT Act. The NEA refuses to recognize that its continued one-sided support of Democrat political candidates and ideology through teachers’ dues does not reflect the values of many of its members. NEA members, as well as the parents who send their children to public schools, have diverse political perspectives and worldviews. Acknowledging that political and ideological diversity is vital for any healthy and effective national organization, especially one with so much influence on American public schools. Congress must hold the NEA publicly accountable to parents, school boards and public-school teachers across the country as to which initiatives and organizations it is funding so that there may be full transparency within its membership and the public.”Jeff Wolford, Pennsylvania
Additional information about the reforms included in the STUDENT Act is available in the Freedom Foundation’s new report, “Rethinking the National Education Association’s Federal Charter.”
Director of Labor Policy