On May 16th close to 19,000 teachers and educators came to Raleigh to lobby legislators for higher teacher salaries and additional funding for public education. The rally, sponsored by the North Carolina Association of Educators (NCAE), the largest teachers’ union in the state, was given a huge boost when 40 school districts – enrolling close to 1 million students — closed school for the day so that teachers could attend the rally.
Civitas has written about how the real purpose for the rally was to replenish NCAE ranks and mobilize voters for upcoming elections in 2018 and 2020. While NCAE was pleased with the size of the crowds, large crowds can’t entirely hide troubling trends. The fact is NCAE membership continues to decline. Over the past five years membership is down 40.8 percent, the third largest decline among existing NEA state affiliates. Moreover, a look at finances revealed that in 2016, NCAE had an operating deficit of over $750,000.
NCAE is hoping to have an impact on fall elections. The union’s President Mark Jewell has not been shy about saying the rally is about November, using it as an opportunity to mobilize and get candidates elected in fall. To do that effectively requires the national and state unions to be in a position of strength regarding membership and finances.
Earlier this week, on the web site, The 74, veteran teacher union watcher, Mike Antonucci said the National Education Association – the nation’s largest teachers union and the parent organization of the NCAE – is bracing for what it believes will be an unfavorable ruling in the closely watched Janus vs AFSCME case. NEA plans on cutting its budget by $50 million (over two years) and projects that 300,000 members may leave the organization.
That’s a sizable convulsion. If that does happen, we should note that Janus will not impact North Carolina — a right to work state — in the same way as other states where teachers are required to pay what are called “agency fees” because non-workers also benefit from a strong contract. North Carolina does not collect agency fees.
Still, you have to ask: Would a weak NEA also weaken NCAE? In 2015, NCAE received about 13 percent of its $7 million in revenue from NEA grants. How will NCAE address the reductions at the local level? Cut staff or raise dues? Shift priorities? Can it reverse enrollment declines from teachers who increasingly see the organization’s stances as out of step with their own? Those are all important questions which will impact signficantly how NCAE will seek to organize and mobilize.
Many will be watching to see how the organization answers those questions.