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Teacher Union's Missing Funds: A Pattern of Stonewalling?

Teacher Union's Missing Funds: A Pattern of Stonewalling?

By RiShawn Biddle - November 21, 2011

Who stole more than $227,000 from America's public school teachers? And how did the National Education Association fail to notice this for five years? These are among the questions that the nation's largest teachers union refuses to answer.

Last year, the NEA reported to the U.S. Department of Labor that it lost $227,626 over a five-year period "due to the actions of two former employees." The union didn't discover the money was lost until April 2010.

After learning of the problem, the NEA let the two employees go. It didn't press charges but rather "secured commitments from the two individuals to make full restitution." According to its report to the Labor Department, less than half of those funds were recovered and the NEA may have had to file a claim with its fidelity bond carrier to recoup the rest. The union also took "an array of corrective actions," it assures us.

Few of the NEA's 3.2 million rank-and-file members have heard about this bit of news because the union buried it in a hard-to-find addendum to its Department of Labor-mandated 2009-2010 LM-2 filing. They most definitely won't be able to find out which former employees stole the money, why the union took so long to discover the problem, or what specific steps have been taken to prevent this in the future.

They won't find out because the NEA isn't talking. Pressed for information by RealClearPolitics, the union phrased its "no comment" as a matter of privacy rights.

"The National Education Association is a private organization. As such, the NEA faces no obligation to make financial or employment records public beyond meeting the reporting requirements as provided for by law or subject to the governance documents under which the Association operates," wrote senior press officer Sara Robertson in response to several queries.

For critics of the union such as Larry Sand, a former NEA member who now runs the California Teacher Empowerment Network, that isn't nearly good enough. Sand argues that the union owes its members more than a perfunctory statement. "I would think that they would give more disclosure. These are forced dues. In 28 states, [the NEA] is taking their money," he says.

When it comes to collecting rank-and-file cash, the NEA has few rivals. The union collected $397 million during its 2009-2010 fiscal year, more than the American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees, Service Employees International Union, or the International Brotherhood of Teamsters.

A lot of what comes in gets spent quickly. Besides the $29 million it spends annually on political activity -- on top of the $64 million it ladled out to political campaigns during the 2009-2010 election cycle -- 433 NEA staffers earned at least $100,000 in annual compensation.

And the union will spend more. In June, members voted to increase annual dues by $10 in order to beat back school reformers and governors looking to curtail the union's influence.

The NEA can be quick to accuse critics of imperiling the economic interests of its members. Earlier this year, the president of the NEA New Jersey chapter accused Gov. Chris Christie of trying to "raid the pension checks of retirees and the paychecks of middle-class workers" after he, along with the Democrat-controlled legislature, made teachers and other civil servants contribute more to their nearly free health care plans.

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RiShawn Biddle

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