“Teachers unions as a massive general political force is an untold story,” writes Mike Antonucci in “The Long Reach of Teachers Unions,” an article that will appear in the Fall 2010 issue of Ed Next, and which is now available online. “Rarely discussed is union influence over state and federal elections and over domestic policy, from fundamental issues such as taxation and health care to more esoteric ones, such as gay marriage and redistricting.”

Antonucci notes that the largest political campaign spender in America is not a corporation or an industry association, it’s the NEA, which spent more than $56.3 million in 2007-08, $12.5 million ahead of the second place group.

The NEA collects $162 from each member teacher. Antonucci takes a close look at what that money is spent on.

And legislative and campaign spending is not the only thing teachers unions are spending their money on; both NEA and AFT send additional millions to advocacy groups, community organizations, and charities. Contributions go to friendly organizations like FairTest, the Economic Policy Institute, People for the American Way, ASU’s Education Policy Research Unit, and the Great Lakes Center. Some grantees, like Communities for Quality Education, do not ever disclose that they are funded by teachers unions.

Antonucci wonders why, when NEA members are no more liberal than the average American, labor unions contribute so heavily to progressive groups and causes. The answer is that union leaders, who mostly identify themselves as liberal, decide where the funds go.

“Coverage of teachers unions needs to emerge from its current position as an afterthought on the education beat and assume its place alongside national fiscal and political reporting,” he concludes. “Only then will the public see that Big Oil and Big Tobacco have been superseded by Big Education.”

NB: A press release announcing the article appears here.

Last updated July 14, 2010