One of the most-hotly debated questions is how strong is the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers compared to the school reform movement. When it comes to the money that is key to political influence, there is no doubt: The NEA and AFT together spend roughly $700 million per year, consistently, on a broad spectrum of political communication activities opposed to reform. This means that the financial (and political) muscle of the two unions is far greater than that of school reform organizations such as Democrats for Education Reform, StudentsFirst (for which I used to work), Stand for Children, Black Alliance for Educational Options, and the American Federation for Children.
To understand the unions’ advantages, start with the AFT and NEA national budgets. The AFT has 1.6 million members and generated $233 million in revenue (net of borrowing) as of 2013-2014, according to this week’s Dropout Nation analysis of financial data; the NEA had 3.1 million members and national revenues of $387 million in 2012-2013. This total is only the beginning. Although teachers have “unitary dues” where they pay once for national, state, and local affiliates, the state and local portions of the bill vary greatly and can be quite significant. In the state of New Jersey, for instance, compulsory dues come to $936 per teacher, less than $200 of which go to national. In Chicago, the compulsory dues that the AFT’s Chicago Teachers Union deducts from paychecks amount to $1,060 per teacher a year, several hundred dollars more than go to Illinois and national combined. Average dues of nearly $1,000 per year appear quite common.
The $63 million spent by Walton family on ed reform last year < 1/10th amount spent by NEA and AFT.