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Highlights of the 2011 NEA Convention in Chicago
The NEA Representative Assembly opened in Chicago on July 2nd with 7,321 delegates, a number education union watchdog Mike Antonucci said was "by far the lowest number" since he began covering the conventions in 1998. Nonetheless, union leadership worked hard to create an enthusiastic political rally atmosphere and the important business of keeping massive amounts of money flowing to their Democrat allies was accomplished.
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Support for Obama Half-hearted but Well-funded

NEA members remain unhappy with the Obama administration, but nonetheless approved an early endorsement of the President's re-election bid. Though seemingly strong, the 72% margin of victory is actually an historic low for NEA presidential endorsements. Fort Myers, FL middle school teacher Bertha J. Foley explained her support for Obama by saying, "All of the Republicans are worse on education than Obama . . . You have to pick the least evil, the one who will do the least harm."

The approval opens the coffers of NEA PAC dollars toward Obama's re-election; union leadership said they are prepared to spend up to $60 million on the campaign. President Dennis Van Roekel said the early endorsement would give the group more leverage to push for favored policies with the administration, particularly regarding the overhaul of No Child Left Behind, which is due for renewal.

"13 Things We Hate about Arne Duncan"

The union isn't comfortable opposing President Obama directly, so they aimed much of their frustration at the man charged with overseeing Obama's policies — Education Secretary Arne Duncan. Still, convention delegates stopped short of approving a call for Duncan's ouster, primarily because they didn't want to deal with the bad PR such a move would generate, according to Education Week reporter Stephen Sawchuk. A delegate from Delaware summed up his argument against the measure by saying, "Let's not give those who would destroy us any ammunition."

On the other hand, delegates weren't shy about approving a resolution directing the NEA President to "communicate aggressively, forcefully, and immediately to President Barack Obama and U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan that NEA is appalled with Secretary Duncan." The resolution went on to lay out 13 charges against Duncan, including focusing too heavily on charter schools, failing to respect and honor the professionalism of teachers, weighing in on local hiring decisions, and focusing too heavily on competitive grants (i.e. Race to the Top). This resolution was submitted by the union's board of directors, which lends it even more weight as the union's definitive view.

Hypocrisy Alert

If there is one thing NEA members can count on, it's that their union will scream bloody murder when schools lay off teachers and support staff in the wake of budget cuts. In typical liberal "do as we say, not as we do" fashion, the NEA responded to a $14 million budget shortfall by downsizing its national staff. Secretary-Treasurer Becky Pringle said the move would save the union $4.8 million next year. Asked how many employees would be let go, Pringle replied "about 20" — a whopping $240,000 saved per staffer. Pringle also said the union "has worked hard to reduce benefits" for remaining employees. Wisconsin 14 Win

'Friend of Education' Award

NEA delegates enthusiastically welcomed the 14 Wisconsin Democrat state senators who fled the state in an unsuccessful attempt to block a bill that would limit state employees' bargaining rights. Delegates chanted "union busting, that's disgusting" and held up "thank you 14" signs as the formerly AWOL senators came to the stage to accept the union's annual "Friend of Education" award.

The 14 were hailed as heroes for holing up for three weeks at the Clock Tower Resort adjacent to the CoCo Key Water Resort in Rockford, Illinois. The senators had plenty of time to enjoy amenities that included satellite TV, waterslides, and scantily clad waitresses at the hotel's Tilted Kilt Pub and Eatery while their colleagues dealt with angry demonstrators at the Wisconsin state capitol.

(The Wall Street Journal, 7-4-11; eiaonline.com/intercepts 7-1-11 through 7-5-11; blogs.edweek.org, 7-1-11 through 7-4-11; The New York Times, 7-4-11; businessinsider.com, 2-18-11)

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