The STUDENT Act, a congressional bill seeking to reform and depoliticize the nation’s largest teachers’ union, has accumulated a supportive coalition of over 30 policy organizations endorsing it since July.
“The National Education Association’s priorities are out of touch with the American public,” said Parents Defending Education Action in its endorsement of the bill, citing the NEA’s “hyper fixation on gender politics” as a significant factor. “The STUDENT Act will curb the NEA’s engagement in lobbying or other political activity, thereby forcing leadership to focus on improving the American education system instead of prioritizing their own political ambitions.”
STUDENT, the bill’s acronym, stands for “Stopping Teachers Unions from Damaging Education Needs Today,” and it would redesign the federal charter of the NEA.
“Since receiving its federal charter the NEA has strayed far from its original purpose, becoming little more than a political machine masking as an advocate for public education and students,” said U.S. Rep. Scott Fitzgerald, R-Wisconsin, who is spearheading the legislation.
Fitzgerald, a member of the Congressional School Choice Caucus, previously introduced a bill that would strip the NEA of its federal charter altogether. The STUDENT Act takes a different approach, strategically amending the charter rather than removing it, in order to require continued congressional accountability for massive union.
The Freedom Foundation writes that the NEA’s federal charter, as written in 1906, is different from most others in that it leaves the majority of policy making up to the union’s constitution and by-laws rather than establishing boundaries or guidelines.
Proposed reforms to the NEA charter include implementing new financial transparency measures, ensuring that tenets of Critical Race Theory are not enshrined in its policies, and prohibiting it from engaging in political lobbying.
Currently, the NEA regularly lobbies on controversial partisan policy issues such as abortion, immigration and policy reform.
Though the bill would directly address the NEA, organizations that have endorsed the bill believe state-level affiliates would also feel its impact.
“AEA, the Alabama affiliate of the NEA, has been one of the most powerful lobbies in state politics for decades,” the Alabama Policy Institute stated in its endorsement of the STUDENT Act. “While the STUDENT Act would have only limited impact on AEA directly, by reforming the NEA and holding it accountable to federal lawmakers there could be positive benefits for Alabama’s education employees and the state as a whole.”
Mitigating the NEA’s political activities would be a shock to the system, observers say, due to its political involvement and influence.
Between 2021 and 2022, the NEA reported a total annual revenue of over $600 million, without counting state and local affiliates. In 2022, the union donated over $24 million in political contributions, with 99% of recipients being Democrats.