Teacher Unions, Mac the Knife, and Dollar Power

The poor can be bought for little or nothing, the charming scoundrel Macheath (“Mac the Knife”) discovered when his old favorite, Jenny, was persuaded by the Peachums to turn him in for a pittance.  True of the 18th Century beggars celebrated in the “Threepenny Opera,” the principle applies no less well to struggling 21st century nonprofits.

Since the National Education Association (NEA) can collect multi-millions of dollars through a check-off system that generates revenues directly from teacher paychecks (unless a teacher specifically objects), the NEA, a la Peachum, can invest in the work of less-advantaged non-profits that ostensibly have entirely different agendas.  Even a little bit of money can produce a valuable ally somewhere down the line.

During the 2010-11 fiscal year, the NEA invested $18.8 million dollars in a bewildering array of grateful non-profit groups and organizations, the Education Intelligence Agency tells us.

Some of the money goes to ostensibly independent research groups, such as a $250,000 grant to the Great Lakes Center for Education Research and Practice (which has migrated to the University of Colorado at Boulder, which received another quarter million in direct funding), a $255,000 grant to the Economic Policy Institute, a reliably pro-labor “think tank,” and a $50,000 award to Phi Delta Kappa, which publishes a journal highly protective of union interests.

Research groups connected to the Democratic mainstream also collect money from the NEA.  The Center for American Progress was given $25,000 and the Center for Tax and Budget Accountability was awarded $20,000.

Even tiny research outfits can get something:  the Global Institute for Language and Literacy Development got $18,000, while the Employee Benefit Research Institute was awarded $7,500, and Media Matters, a group that attacks conservative groups and commentators, was treated to a $100,000 gift. The anti-accountability group, FairTest, bagged $35,000.

And some money goes to those who have the potential to write stories about unions.  The Education Writers Association, for example, received a grant of $11,500.

Groups representing the interests of education schools are another NEA favorite, strengthening the symbiotic relationship between schools of education and teacher unions.  Grants were given to the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education ($400,373) and the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards ($10,000)

NEA also likes to help out pillars of the education establishment.  The Council of Chief State School Offices received $50,417; the Council of State Governments got $19,750; the Education Commission of the States was awarded $60,000; the National Parent Teachers Association was given $6,250; the Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association captured $50,000; and the Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the United States Senate was awarded $200,000.

A wide array of civil rights and minority groups appreciate the help they receive from the NEA, including the NAACP ($25,000), Congressional Black Caucus Foundation ($170,000), the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund ($10,000), the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network ($7,500), the National Women’s Law Center ($10,000),  Rainbow PUSH Coalition ($5,000), People for the American Way ($128,000), National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials Education Fund ($12,500), National Black Caucus of State Legislators ($5,500), National Association for Multicultural Education ($5,000), National Association for Equal Opportunity in Higher Education ($17,500), and something called the Hip Hop Caucus Education Fund ($10,000). No wonder it’s nearly impossible to get a civil rights coalition to take on the teacher unions.

Even Republicans can cash in.  The Ripon Society, a liberal-leaning faction within the party, got $10,000.

The list goes on and on, as you can see by checking out the link given above. The recipients, big and small, help to build a broad, diverse coalition that can be called upon by a teacher union when help is needed.  Keeping the document handy may prove helpful if one wants to understand the interstices of the debate over school reform.  As “Deep Throat” advised, “Follow the money.”  Even a little money can go a long ways.  If you don’t believe me, ask Mrs. Peachum.

-Paul Peterson

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