National Education Association

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National Education Association

The National Education Association (NEA) is a nonprofit and nonpartisan professional organization made up of elementary and secondary school teachers, higher education faculty, education support professionals, school administrators, and others interested in public education. The NEA, which was founded in 1857, is the oldest and largest U.S. organization dealing with public education. The organization has more than 2.7 million members and is headquartered in Washington, D.C. The organization has approximately 565 staff members in its headquarters and regional offices. The association's budget for fiscal year 2002–03 was more than $267 million.

The NEA has 51 state-level affiliates that include 50 state associations and the Federal Education Association. The more than 14,000 local NEA affiliates include approximately 800 higher education affiliates. Anyone who works for a public school district, a college or university, or any other public institution devoted primarily to education is eligible to join the NEA. It also has special membership categories for retired educators and college students studying to become teachers.

The NEA is a volunteer-based organization supported by a network of staff at the local, state, and national levels. At the local level, NEA affiliates are active in various capacities, such as conducting professional workshops on discipline and bargaining contracts for school district employees. At the state level, NEA affiliates regularly lobby legislators for the funds for public education, campaign for higher professional standards for the teaching profession, and file legal actions to protect Academic Freedom. At the national level, the NEA coordinates innovative projects to restructure how learning takes place and lobbies Congress on behalf of public education.

NEA members nationwide set association policy by meeting at their annual representative assembly every July. NEA members at the state and local levels elect the more than 9,000 assembly delegates, who, in turn, elect the top NEA officers, debate issues, and set NEA policy.

The NEA has been a vigorous opponent of efforts to privatize education through the use of tuition vouchers. It rejects the arguments of voucher advocates that vouchers improve student learning, provide meaningful parental choice, and increase educational opportunities for low-income students. Instead, the NEA contends that vouchers are costly and that they are not the panacea for the problems in public education.

The NEA has also expressed concerns about laws that allow the creation of charter schools, which are deregulated, autonomous public schools. Advocates of charter schools believe that freeing some public schools from many state and local mandates will encourage educational innovation, create greater parental involvement, and promote improvement of public education in general. The NEA, while not opposing the concept of charter schools, has lobbied for sufficient oversight of these new schools, believing that public accountability is necessary.

The election of george w. bush as president in 2000 and the gain of Republican seats in both the House and Senate in 2002 strengthened the position of voucher supporters and gave increased urgency to continuing NEA opposition. In 2003, faced with a weakening economy and the consequent tightening of state and local budgets, NEA continued to oppose the privatization of work traditionally performed by school district employees and pressed for reduced class sizes and the need to train more teachers as millions of veteran teachers neared retirement.

Further readings

Berube, Maurice R. 1988. Teacher Politics: The Influence of Unions. New York: Greenwood Press.Lieberman, Myron. 2000. The Teacher Unions: How They Sabotage Educational Reform and Why. San Francisco: Encounter Books.

National Education Association. Available online at <www.nea.org> (accessed July 28, 2003).

Cross-references

Education Law; Public.

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The struggle over these tests became a battle between the governor and the state's largest union, the Arkansas Education Association -- a battle that symbolized the growing conflict between the public interest and the most powerful Democratic interest groups.
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