School's out, but the nation's teacher unions will be working overtime this summer to help elect John Kerry president. The American Federation of Teachers (AFT) will host John Kerry at their convention next month, and the National Education Association (NEA) has launched a new ad campaign in several battleground states to attack President Bush's education record. The ads claim the president's No Child Left Behind Act "forces teachers to drill students for standardized tests," which, it contends, "hurts kids today and limits them in the future."
Teacher union members will be the biggest single contingent of delegates to the Democratic Convention in Boston later in July, just as they were in 2000, when more than 350 NEA members and 152 AFT members were Democratic delegates. In addition, teacher unions will donate millions to elect Democrats at all levels of government. Indeed, the NEA and AFT are two of the top 13 all-time donors to the Democratic Party since 1978, giving nearly $12.4 million to Democrats as of June 2003, according to the Center for Public Integrity.
But this is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to teacher union political activism. Much of what goes on is hidden from view, even from teacher union members themselves.
Like most unions, the teacher unions not only collect voluntary contributions from their members to donate to political candidates -- some 95 percent of which goes to Democrats -- they also spend huge sums of their members' dues to register voters, run ads, print campaign leaflets, set up phone banks and turn out voters on Election Day. What's more, the NEA employs what Landmark Legal Foundation president Mark Levin calls "the largest army of campaign workers that any organization has" -- the 1,800 NEA UniServ directors who are deployed in every Congressional District in the nation. The NEA, with its state affiliates, spent some $90 million to underwrite its UniServ program in 2003, according to documents Landmark Legal Foundation unearthed in its extensive court filings against the union.
These UniServ directors are responsible for all political activities within their geographic area, including raising funds for the NEA's political action committee (cynically named the Fund for Children and Public Education), managing NEA's delegates to the Democratic convention, giving campaign support for NEA-endorsed candidates and coordinating the union's lobbying efforts. Yet despite the obvious political nature of these union operatives' work and the huge sums of money to support it, the NEA claims it doesn't spend a dime of the dues it collects on politics, or at least that's what it tells the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). Both the NEA and the AFT claim they spend zero dollars on politics when they file annual returns with the IRS. Why? Because as tax-exempt organizations, they would owe taxes on that portion of their revenues that they spend on politics. Other non-profit groups report their political and lobbying expenses -- the Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers, for example, reported almost $20 million in such spending in 1996 -- but not the teacher unions. So, not only are the unions ripping off their own members, they are defrauding the government of millions of dollars in taxes.
What makes this all the more galling is that teacher unions want the rest of us to pay higher taxes. When California experienced a $35-billion budget shortfall in 2002, largely because of out-of-control spending by the Democrat-controlled legislature and then Democratic Gov. Gray Davis, the California Federation of Teachers proposed raising six separate taxes to close the gap and passing legislation that would make it easier to raise taxes in the future. Of course the teacher unions claim these higher taxes would benefit education, though more money has done little to improve education to date.
Funding on education has gone up exponentially in the last several decades -- we're now spending more than three times as much per pupil in constant, inflation-adjusted dollars than we did in 1960 -- but student test scores, as measured by the National Assessment of Education Progress, have shown almost no improvement over that same period.
Teacher unions deserve an "A" for their unswerving devotion to the Democratic Party, but they have failed miserably when it comes to improving education.