Political activism takes center stage for NEA

Posted: Jul 26, 2004 12:00 AM

To no one's surprise, delegates to the annual National Education Association convention voted 7,390 to 1,153 to endorse U.S. Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., for president.

NEA President Reg Weaver opened the annual convention in July in Washington, D.C., with a call for public school teachers and employees to mobilize to defeat President Bush on Nov. 2. Weaver said the union's political activism "takes center stage" and predicted "our 2.7 million members can be the X factor in this election."

For the 2004 political campaign, the NEA will "partner" with left-wing organizations such as MoveOn.org, the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now and the pro-Democratic Campaign for America's Future in order to achieve "the largest mobilization for education ever." Through a nationwide political strategy called "house parties" to be held Sept. 22, these activists will plan political rallies, register voters, meet with congressional candidates and organize a get-out-the-vote program to cover teachers and parents.

Kerry was to have been the convention's headline speaker, but he stood them up, choosing that day to announce his choice of Sen. John Edwards, D-N.C., as his running mate. The delegates were more than pleased with his replacement, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., who was introduced as "one of our closest allies; she's so close, in fact, that she needs no further introduction."

The former first lady brought the delegates to their feet with what the NEA's official newspaper called her "sharp wit," such as, "We are one day closer to the end of the Bush-Cheney administration." Actually, she was just a warm-up for a showing of Michael Moore's anti-Bush movie, "Fahrenheit 9/11," right after her speech.

The NEA's lobbying goals in 2005 for Congress include federal funding for public school child care, early childhood programs that are school-based, before- and after-school programs, big spending for school counselors and school-based health care for children.

The NEA's non-education-related lobbying goals include funding for the National Endowment for the Arts, national health care, reparations to African-Americans, statehood for the District of Columbia, taxpayer funding of federal elections and a national holiday for Cesar Chavez.

The NEA's foreign policy goals include ratification of the United Nations treaties on the Rights of the Child and on Discrimination against Women.

The NEA's feminist lobbying goals include "reproductive freedom without governmental intervention" (but, of course, with tax funding), affirmative action, assigning women to military combat and passage of the Equal Rights Amendment. The NEA's gay goals include a federal statute prohibiting employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, income tax benefits for domestic partners and hate crimes legislation.

The NEA opposes all varieties of school choice, tuition tax credits, vouchers, parental option or "choice" in education programs, designating English as our official language and any possible action that might impinge on "separation of church and state."

The most controversial vote at the NEA convention turned out to concern one word in the anti-home-school resolution. B-69 as introduced read: "The Association also believes that unfunded home-schooled students should not participate in any extracurricular activities in the public schools."

The word "unfunded" precipitated a lively debate. Some schools provide funding for home-schoolers to participate in after-school activities such as sports. The amendment to remove the word "unfunded" was designed to put the NEA on record as opposed to letting home-schoolers darken the door of public schools regardless of whether there is money to finance their participation.

In the end, the majority of delegates voted to delete "unfunded." Whether or not the participation of home-choolers is funded, the NEA wants to prohibit them them from competing in any way with public-school students who are "with us all day."

The NEA thus made its animosity against home-schoolers loud and clear. The only thing this powerful and wealthy union fears is home-schooling.

The convention opened with an invocation by the president of the National Council of Urban Education Associations. A few delegates complained that his message sounded suspiciously like a reading from the Democratic Party platform.

Washington Mayor Anthony Williams was not on hand to welcome the delegates to the nation's capital because he supports school vouchers, a politically incorrect position for NEA speakers. The delegates were welcomed instead by U.S. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, who used her time at the podium to pitch her legislation to give congressional representation to the District of Columbia.

The speakers voiced the usual complaints about a stingy Congress not appropriating enough money for education. In fact, federal spending on education increased 51 percent since Bush took office, and Title I spending (for low-income schools) has increased from $8.8 billion in the Clinton administration to $13.3 billion this year.