Earlier this spring the North Carolina Association of Educators (NCAE) elected two former leaders of NCAE Organize 2020 Racial and Social Justice Caucus to its two top spots. Tamika Walker Kelley replaced Mark Jewell as NCAE President. Bryan Proffitt stepped in as vice president. Walker-Kelly and Proffitt ran as a ticket and were the co-chairs of NCAE’s Racial and Social Justice Caucus. Their election signals the ascendency of the hard Left in NCAE leadership. It also provides an example of how true believers on the Left take over organizations and turn them into recruiting mechanisms for socialist organizations whose goals are to undermine American ideals and are our system of government.
So how is this happening? The remainder of this article will answer that question by focusing on smaller questions: What is the NCAE? Who runs the organization? How does it work? And why is NCAE a threat to public schools and families across North Carolina? First, let’s start with some relevant background.
The North Carolina Association of Educators is a product of a merger between two longstanding organizations representing teachers in North Carolina; the North Carolina Education Association and the North Carolina Teachers Association. Documents authorizing the merger were signed at the National Education Association Convention in San Francisco, California, on July 1, 1970.
NCAE is a state affiliate of the National Education Association, the largest professional employee organization in the nation. NCAE members are also members of NEA. NCAE is North Carolina’s largest education advocacy organization for public school employees and represents active, retired, and student members. According to reports, in 2019 NCAE has 27,719 total members and 17,580 active members. Annual dues for an average member are estimated to be around $450.
It is important to remember, the NCAE is not a union. The state prohibits teachers from bargaining collectively. Nevertheless, the prohibition hasn’t prevented NCAE from acting as a union and employing union tactics. Some even say the state’s non-union status allows NCAE to act even more like a union. Since it is not burdened by the responsibilities of negotiating contracts and handling grievances, NCAE can devote more time to organizing and mobilizing support for union activity.
NCAE: Let’s all be socialists
The election of Tamika Walker-Kelly and Brian Proffitt reflects the emergence of the hard left in NCAE and strong socialist influences. As mentioned previously, both Walker-Kelly and Proffitt held positions of leadership in NCAE’s Organize 2020 Racial and Social Justice Caucus (RSJC). A review of the RSJC web site should reveal what the caucus is all about: power, organizing, getting people connected and gaining leverage. The name essentially says it all; but it also tells you members are true disciples of identity politics. What should not be missed is the socialist influence and the almost reverence for radical socialism. The RSJC web page has the following:
Inspired by the powerful organizing and social justice focus of the Chicago Teachers’ Union, the NCAE Organize 2020 Racial & Social Justice Caucus was founded in 2013 to bring similar energy to North Carolina’s fight for public education.
The quote is telling and points to where leaders want to take NCAE. RSJC wants to be like the Chicago Teachers Union and take that path. It’s a path most North Carolinians would be uncomfortable taking.
The roots of socialism run deep in the union movement and especially in the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU). The leftward march of our unions, especially our teachers unions should be concerning. It’s a topic that is well documented (see here, here and here). Even those who simply visit the Chicago Teachers Union site will notice the heavy socialist influence in the wording – movement, rights, justice, working conditions, organizing, fair share, bankers and millionaires. Throughout there is a tendency to pit businesses against the working class and foment class struggle.
If you don’t know about the Chicago Teachers Union, please know that the CTU president is Jesse Sharkey, formerly of the International Socialist Organization (ISO). ISO advocated the replacement of capitalism with socialism and believed mass strikes to be an effective tool for bringing that about. ISO helped to organize the CTU strike in 2012. Last year the CTU took a trip to Venezuela. Why? Because CTU admires Venezuelan type socialism. Democratic Socialists play a big part in in the history of CTU and its leadership. CTU wants to do to Chicago what socialism did to Venezuela.
And that’s who Walker-Kelly and Proffitt want to pattern NCAE after. They want to bring that same form of socialism to North Carolina.
How will they do it? By working to strengthen the union, mobilizing numbers and employing union tactics.
NCAE’s mission statement is rather gauzy, where the organization expresses its preference for uniting, organizing and empowering. It reads:
To be the voice of educators in North Carolina that unites, organizes and empowers members to be advocates for education professionals, public education and children.
Advocates for what? is the question that logically comes to mind after reading the statement.
Walker-Kelly is less direct than Proffitt but still committed to building NCAE through organizing and walkouts and fighting those who seek to “privatize” the public schools.
Flexing union muscle is something Proffitt has written about in Our Strength, Our Task, Our Future. The goal? Harnessing political power. Proffitt writes:
If we organized students, parents, educators, and the supporters of public schools in this state, we could run every school board, county commission, and city council. We could elect every judge, member of the House and Senate, and Governor. Given the importance of North Carolina on the national electoral map, we could probably impact every Presidential election. Just by going to vote together.
Proffitt and Walker-Kelly both helped to mobilize the teacher walkouts in recent years. Organize 2020 was started to build political power and influence. NCAE saw educators across the country building their unions to transform public education in some of the largest school districts across the country and they wanted to do the same for North Carolina.
Politics and Priorities
Walkouts and rallies – those old union tactics – were vehicles to help mobilize and strengthen unions for fall elections. The goal of the May 16 (2018) and May 1 (2019) teacher rallies which brought thousands of teachers to Raleigh was clearly mobilization and pushing NCAE’s legislative agenda, Some of NCAE’s demands for recent rallies included:
- Adding social workers, librarians, psychologists, social workers, nurses and other health professionals to meet the national standard
- Provide $15 minimum wage for all school employees
- 5 percent raise for all school employees
- 5 percent cost of living adjustment for retirees
- Expand Medicaid
- Reinstate state retiree health benefits for teachers hired after 2021
- Fix crumbling schools and large class sizes with a $1.9 billion statewide school construction bond
For all the talk about working for children and helping kids, these demands are about boosting jobs and pay. A quick review of the proposals shows them to be largely a money grab for union employees. Add in provisions to expand Medicaid (yes, most people do wonder why this is on the list) with proposals to fatten benefits and unjustified teacher raises – and you have a lot of raised eyebrows.
The goal is to get the proposals passed and rallies help boost support. Still, meeting the demands would cost a lot of money. How much? Last year Terry Stoops at the John Locke Foundation estimated that implementing NCAE’s legislative priorities for 2019-21 biennium would cost $6 billion over two years. That’s one of the reasons that legislators failed to act.
As an employee association, NCAE is concerned with the interests of teachers and educators. That’s who pays the salaries of NCAE employees. If you review NCAE’s legislative priorities over the last 20 years you’ll see that in addition to fighting to raise teachers’ salaries and benefits, NCAE is advocating for expanding social programs (i.e. Medicaid) and also working to weaken or eliminate other programs that provide educational opportunities for children but also compete with the public schools. A review of NCAE’s 2019 Legislative Priorities reveals that to be the case. It shows how NCAE considers improved health and well-being of students, defeating privatization efforts and advocating against corporate tax cuts to be within the organization’s responsibilities as much as teacher pay and working conditions. The expansiveness, impracticality and expense of NCAE’s legislative priorities make them items that are frequently readily challenged and opposed.
Of course as an employee association, NCAE has a right to engage in political activity as long as it is done properly. The May 16, 2018, Rally for Respect in Raleigh talked about building respect again for teachers and educators, but it’s real goal was enacting a political agenda.
In a candid exchange with a reporter, then NCAE president, Mark Jewell said, “We don’t expect much change from this group, so we’re going to change the players in the game.”
Of course, many think the recent rallies were crossing the line. Let’s face it, the 2018 and 2019 rallies produced teacher walkouts by the thousands. Teachers shutdown 40 plus school districts to attend a political rally. Parents and policymakers complained. They both thought politics had entered the equation. Sadly, NCAE has a history of crossing the line. Most prominent of the examples among them was in 2016 when Organize 2020 was trying to organize a walk-in protest at local schools. Want more examples? North State Journal reporter AP Dillon has done a good job of listing recent instances where NCAE crossed the line.
Money and Politics
NCAE leaders have made clear: they want to build the organization, mobilize support and have greater influence politically. There have been times when NCAE had greater political influence at the legislature. When Democrats held majorities in the legislature during the first decade of the century (2000-2010), NCAE influence was probably at its highest. NCAE had influence over actors, policy – and teacher pay. Over the decade the average annual teacher pay raise was 4.01 percent per year. The average pay raise for state employees over the same time period was about half that, 2.18 percent annually[i].
What explains the difference? Effective lobbying accounts for some of the difference. The other? NCAE has been a major contributor to the Democratic party which was the party in control of the legislature for most of the decade. According to a review of contributions to political candidates and organizations, since 2000 NCAE or its PAC has contributed $2,108,921 to candidates, candidate committees or Democrat or Republican organizations. The overwhelming majority of that ($1,696,628) was contributed to Democratic candidates, committees or organizations. During the same time, $100,130 was contributed toward Republican candidates or organizations[ii]. That means approximately 80 percent of NCAE campaign spending went to Democratic candidates or organizations.[iii]
Remember, NCAE is a state affiliate of (NEA). And NEA is a major contributor on the national and local political scene. According to OpenSecrets.org, since 1990, the National Education Association has contributed over $247.8 million to federal candidates and parties. In any given year, an average of 93 percent of those contributions went to Democratic candidates or the party. Since 1990, NEA has been the largest contributor in the education industry for all but four election cycles. In each of those four cycles the American Federation for Teachers (AFT) held the top spot, with NEA placing second. To date for 2020, NEA has given $2,572,903 to congressional candidates and party committees through contributions and spending by affiliates (PACs). Of that amount, 95 percent of those contributions were to Democrats; 2 percent went to Republicans and the remainder went to “other” candidates. NEA has also given to North Carolina state candidates. Since 2000, NEA has contributed $1,249,893 to state candidates, committees or organizations in North Carolina. One hundred percent of that money went to Democratic candidates, committees or organizations. None was distributed to Republicans.[iv] Interestingly, since 2018 NCAE PAC contributions have included $47,800 to North Carolina Democratic Party or organizations including $25,000 to the North Carolina Democratic Party and to Committee to Break the Majority. Also include was a , $4,000 to Anita Earls who is now on the State Supreme Court, $5,400 to Gov. Roy Cooper; as well as a contribution of $5,400 to Attorney General Josh Stein, whose office is now defending the state in a suit brought by NCAE and six other plaintiffs against the Opportunity Scholarship Program. More on that later.
NEA and NCAE has every right to contribute to candidates that represent the views of its members. However, it should be asked: Does the giving match the political make-up of the members of NEA or NCAE? If it does, Democrats or liberal views would dominate in the organizations. A 2017 Education Week survey of teacher political beliefs found 41 percent of respondents described themselves as Democrats; 30 percent said they were independent; 27 percent called themselves Republican. According to NEA’s own polling, 45 percent of teachers considered themselves a strong or weak Democrat, 23 percent considered themselves a weak or strong Republican, with 31 percent leaning Independent. In addition, on political issues, 37 percent of respondents considered themselves liberal or somewhat liberal, 29 percent moderate and 31 percent conservative or somewhat conservative.
The results show that NEA members are divided politically. NEA has more conservative teachers than you would expect. We don’t know the political views of NCAE members. There is good reason to believe the political makeup should mirror the views of NEA members, or be maybe even a little more conservative because we’re talking about North Carolina and the South. For all the talk about respecting educators and their views, neither organization seems to respect or care much for the views of independent or conservative teachers. They are just forgotten.
NCAE has a right to properly mobilize, however it’s time to ask: Do NCAE’s or NEA’s political contributions mirror the makeup of its members? Why are the views of conservatives being ignored? Also, is it really wise to grant a union to government employees? Yes, NCAE is essentially a de facto union. Why is it wise to do so when that same union makes contributions to lawmakers and politicians with whom they negotiate contracts, lobby for legislation and campaign? It is a massive conflict of interest that everyone pretends doesn’t exist. No, North Carolina doesn’t have collective bargaining, but the conflicts are still there. FDR couldn’t ignore the problem of government unions and spoke out against them. Sadly, we continue to ignore his words.
In NCAE: Time for a closer look, Part II, we will examine some of the radical policies NCAE and NEA are proposing for our schools, show that many NCAE members are voting with their feet and review the significance of these trends for our schools.
[i] Figures calculated from annual salary increases listed in Highlights of the North Carolina Public Schools Budget, May 2020. Published by the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction.
[ii] Contributions to Democrats and Republicans may not add to total because of missing data or contributions that don’t fall in either category
[iii] Spreadsheet analysis of NCAE campaign contributions 2000-2020. Unpublished analysis created by Katie Wooten, Civitas Institute, Summer 2020.
[iv] Spreadsheet analysis of NCAE campaign contributions 2000-2020. Unpublished analysis created by Katie Wooten, Civitas Institute, Summer 2020