- NCAE total membership shrank about 9 percent last year, and is down 38 percent over five years
- That is the third largest drop in the nation
- Declining membership means the loss of millions to a highly political organization standing in the way of school choice
The North Carolina Association of Educators (NCAE), once one of the most powerful professional lobbying organizations in the state, continues to hemorrhage members. Last week, Education Intelligence Agency (EIA), a web site that tracks union membership and influence in education, released membership numbers for the National Education Association (NEA) by state affiliate (NCAE is the state affiliate of the NEA).
If you’re a fan of the unions or NCAE the news was not good.
EIA reported membership numbers by active and total members. What is the difference? Active members are employed teachers, professionals and education support workers. Total membership includes retirees, students, substitutes and all others.
Now the numbers. Last year there were 23,480 active NCAE members, a decline of 9 percent from the previous year. The 9 percent decline in active membership was the third largest in the nation, behind Alabama (-16.0 percent) and Wisconsin (-12.3 percent). Over the past five years, active NCAE membership in North Carolina declined 48 percent.
Last year, NCAE total membership was listed at 35,998, a decline of 8.7 percent from the previous year. The decline in total membership was also the third largest in the nation. Again North Carolina came in behind Alabama (-11.1 percent) and Wisconsin (-9.7 percent). Over the past five years, the total number of NCAE members has declined 38 percent.
And with the decline in members has also come a decline in NCAE finances. In 2010-11 NCAE took in $11 million in total revenue — $8.8 million in membership dues. In 2013-14 (most recent year available), NCAE revenue declined to $6.9 million and membership dues declined to $5,899,000. How bad was it? In 2013-14 NCAE operated at a deficit of $711,000. 
So why are these numbers important?
Our interest in these numbers stems from the radical views of both NCAE and NEA and the common practice of both organizations of making political contributions to candidates whose views are at odds with those of its members. We should also say that NCAE has opposed nearly every major education reform proposal put forth by the Republican legislature in the last five years, including charter schools and vouchers, to name just two.
NEA is the nation’s second highest campaign donor since 1989 – second only to the Service Employees International Union. Since 1989 NEA has contributed $96.9 million to federal candidates, with 97 percent going to Democrats and 3 percent to Republicans. In 2014 Advocacy Fund spent $2.9 million in North Carolina. But I don’t want to get lost in the numbers. If you want to know more about NEA’s giving to candidates go to: FollowtheMoney.org.
The point here is that NCAE continues to lose money and membership. According to Education Intelligence Agency, recent membership losses pushed the organization under the 40,000 threshold requirement for payroll deduction of dues.
Last December, State Auditor Beth Wood said she could not verify the numbers because NCAE refused to provide the numbers.
In the meantime, NCAE continues to benefit from dues check-off even though the state has been unable to verify that it meets the threshold to qualify for the dues check-off provision. State Controller Linda Combs raised the issue of some members meeting state requirements but was uncertain about others. Combs has refused to take action — that is, stop the collection of dues. But I guess refusing to take action IS action. She has acted to not enforce the state requirement.
So even in the face of declining membership, the organization’s ability to raise money for largely Democratic candidates keeps the organization relevant – as does the reality that the organization seems to have friends in high places in state government.
Republicans have a lot of reasons to oppose NCAE – some are strong and policy-based, some are not and are political or personal. Republican legislators have fought hard – and largely unsuccessfully – in recent years to weaken NCAE. Although most of those efforts failed, NCAE’s membership decline is accomplishing much of what the legislature failed to do.
Has NCAE seen the worst of membership woes? No one is predicting, but many will be watching.
 See IRS Form 990 for North Carolina Association of Educators for years 2008-09 and 2013-14. Forms available from Internal Revenue Service or online at Guidestar.org
For a comprehensive overview of North Carolina education policy dating back to 1985, you can review the Civitas Institute’s Public Policy Series found here.