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Why the NEA's federal charter needs to be updated

Updated: Aug 10, 2023

This week, Congressman Scott Fitzgerald of Wisconsin is expected to introduce the "STUDENT" act - a measure that seeks to reform the federal charter of the National Education Association (the country's largest teachers' union).

The "Stopping Teachers Unions from Damaging Education Needs Today" (or STUDENT) act would update the NEA's charter - originally adopted in 1906 - to require more transparency and concentration on educational purposes.

Most of the 94 federally chartered corporations are considered noncontroversial, with a unifying and civic purpose.

But the NEA is much different. It has almost 2.5 million working members and more than $600 million in revenue in 2022. It's the only labor union with a federal charter.

In 2019, the NEA voted against a business item that called on the organization to "rededicate itself to the pursuit of increased student learning," while voting in favor of endorsements of controversial social issues that are far removed from the ABC's of educating.

The federally chartered Boy Scouts of America on the other hand explicitly avoid the appearance of partisan politics. For example:

"The BSA might be the most patriotic organization in the U.S.
But we don’t endorse any one political party. You could say that rather than being pro-left or pro-right, the BSA is pro-America.
The same applies to your pack, troop, post, ship or crew. You and your Scouts should Do Your Duty to Country but not by endorsing any one candidate."

The STUDENT act makes several key updates to the NEA's federal charter:

  1. Prohibits the NEA from engaging in electoral politics and lobbying.

  2. Prohibits the NEA from engaging in discrimination or employing quotas based on protected characteristics like race.

  3. Establishes requirements for the maintenance and inspection of NEA’s corporate records.

  4. Requires the NEA to submit an annual report to Congress.

  5. Fully repeals the NEA’s D.C. property tax exemption.

  6. Requires NEA officers to be U.S. citizens.

  7. Requires the NEA to maintain tax-exempt status.

  8. Requires the NEA’s governance structure to be representative of its membership.

  9. Clarifies the liability of NEA’s corporate officers.

  10. Establishes the service of process upon the NEA.

  11. Prohibits the NEA from collecting dues from a public employee unless the employee has been notified of their right to refuse, and has affirmatively consented, and require the NEA to collect dues without the use of government payroll systems.

  12. Prohibits taxpayer-funded release time for NEA officers.

  13. Bars the NEA from incorporating the core tenets of Critical Race Theory into its governance, operations, and advocacy.

  14. Subjects the NEA and its affiliates to the financial transparency requirements and union democracy protections of the Labor-Management Reporting and Disclosure Act.

  15. Requires the NEA to refrain from initiating, and to actively intervene to prevent, any strikes or work stoppages by its affiliates.

  16. Provides a mechanism to enforce the requirements of NEA’s charter.

  17. Specifies the distribution of the NEA’s assets in the event of its dissolution.

In the 117th Congress, bills were introduced to repeal NEA's federal charter in its entirety. They did not advance.

Rather than repeal the NEA’s federal charter, Congress should amend the NEA’s charter to make the NEA less focused on partisan politics and help return it back to a focus on education.

The STUDENT Act may just be what the NEA needs to get its focus back on the chalkboard.

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