NJEA Leaders Are Using Teachers to Control School Board Elections and Set District Policies

Teacher unions are taking heat from American voters who (according to this July 2022 poll) now trust Republicans more than Democrats to “handle issues related to schools and education, and “want schools to focus on helping students make up for lost ground” rather than focusing on race and gender. That’s a noteable turnaround: Democrats have historically been the go-to Party for education so you’d think this lost of faith would get union leaders’ attention.

Yet leaders at the New Jersey Education Association (NJEA) haven’t gotten the message.

That’s one of the revelations from Mike Lilley’s new report from the Sunlight Policy Center. While Part I of “Teaching is Political” looks at NJEA’s program to train teachers to be lobbyists and politicians, Part 2 focuses on the union’s push to control who gets elected to school boards. The goal here is to maintain districts’ commitment to the “pro-education status quo,” which protects “future contract negotiations, working conditions, and current academic and administrative policies.” (Simultaneously, NJEA’s “Center for Honesty in Education” claims political actors on the extreme right” are trying “to politicize our public schools.” 

Lilley got his information by digging into the Center (which is part of a national effort by NJEA’s mothership, the National Education Association) and through access to “recordings of meetings conducted by NJEA staff and political organizers at school districts around the state.” Here’s what he learned (emphases his own):

  • “NJEA – a union that represents 125,000 teachers who teach our schoolchildren – is actively seeking to use teachers to control New Jersey’s school boards and set local education policies.”
  • NJEA staff have been “monitoring school board meetings, investigating opponents, and compiling a database of information on people and organizations that are pushing back against the NJEA-dominated status quo.  To assist these efforts, the NJEA provides a reporting tool on the [Center for Honesty] webpage that allows teachers [to] inform the NJEA of parent efforts to control curriculums as well as “organized political groups” in their districts.  The NJEA aims to become a central clearinghouse for information on the activities of its opponents in the various school districts.”
  • NJEA strives to convince teachers to take an active role in pushing its agenda through a guide called “Step-by-Step Guide to Getting a Resolution Passed in Your School District.” This guide urges teachers to use students as speakers at board meetings: “If students are old enough to represent themselves in [school board] meetings, it’s always powerful when they share their own stories.”
  • NJEA suggests that if a board member isn’t amenable to its agenda, teachers should “ “[p]lan actions to target the member” by “media outreach around an action designed to target board members and expose their unwillingness to support” the resolution.  If that does not work, then the NEA proposes “holding a vigil at their home.”
  • NJEA has a “reporting tool” that lets teachers identify “problematic board members and opposition groups and report them to NJEA.” On those tapes, Lilley heard NJEA staff inform teachers that they have been “investigating the opposition” by following their activities on social media and doing “background checks” on them.

The message is clear, says Lilley: “The NJEA wants itself and its local associations, not parents, to be in charge of local education policy.” He concludes,

 By inserting itself into highly-charged district politics and in many cases fighting local parents attempting to assert their control over school boards, the NJEA is helping to turn schools into battlegrounds.  Not even the kids are to be kept out of the fray.  Rather than reducing the politicization, the NJEA is going all-in to increase it.  This cannot be good for New Jersey schools, for the kids in them, for their parents or for the teachers who teach in the schools. 

Once again, Sunlight is left to ask whether New Jersey teachers would choose to support such activities with their highest-in-the-nation, $999 NJEA annual dues.  They don’t have a choice, but they do have to live with the consequences.

NJEA Is Teaching First Grade Teachers How to Perform ‘Drag Queen Story Hour’

Laura Waters

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