NEA Welcomes Republican Activists

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By Lance Fuller

Over the past several months, states with recently elected Republican governors in Wisconsin, Ohio and Florida have passed legislation that harms public education, eliminating collective bargaining, teacher tenure and instituting merit pay. So it might seem paradoxical for public school educators to support Republicans.

But NEA boasts roughly 1 million Republican members — a third of its membership — and they care about public education. This week NEA welcomed them at its fifth Republican Leaders Conference, which aims to engage the Association’s Republican members and prepare them to effectively advocate for pro-public education issues and candidates on the local, state and federal levels.

Illinois member and 22-year veteran social studies teacher Jerome Hoynes considers the large number of Republican NEA members one of the greatest untapped wells in American politics.

“There are a lot of pro-education Republicans,” Hoynes said, adding, “education shouldn’t be a partisan issue.”

The conference, themed “Taking it Back Home,” also featured workshops on retirement and pension issues along with collective bargaining, and visits to Capitol Hill to meet with Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) and Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.) Roughly 100 NEA members from across the country attended the event.

Pat Shmidt, a Wisconsin member and 35-year veteran music teacher, has attended the conference for four years. During the March protests of Scott Walker’s budget repair bill in Wisconsin, she felt encouraged and hopeful to know that NEA Republicans stood in solidarity with Wisconsinites. Thanks to her previous conference attendance, she was equipped with the necessary skills to speak at rallies in Madison, and knew how to approach her senator for lobbying and how to get involved in the recall elections going on there now.

Louisiana member Diane Vickers, also a 22-year teaching veteran, believes that the current Republican-controlled Congress will be more willing to listen to Republicans about education issues than Democrats, so the conference has provided outstanding leadership, lobbying and networking skills for Republican constituents.

“One of the reasons that I don’t see a paradox in being a Republican and being a union member is because when I work with the children, the children are not Democrats or Republicans, they’re just kids. I don’t work for Democrats or Republicans, I work for the children,” Shmidt said. “We’re trying to show that these radical changes that these governors in these states are trying to make are going to hurt the children.”

Photo: Charles Votaw/NEA

Reader Comments

  1. Yes, Mr. Patterson and Mr. Clapton – Republican public school educators DO exist! You have obviously bought into the myth that all Republicans are white, wealthy, insensitive, and do not support public education. I resent the assumption that as a female, Republican teacher I must be married to a doctor or using my salary to pay for a “vacation home”! My husband is a Landscape Architect, and my “vacation home” is a pop-up camper. The money I earn by teaching …..helps to pay the bills!
    My family (both sides) were staunch Democrats, and it was assumed that I would register to vote as such. Growing up in the 70’s and being disillusioned by BOTH parties, however, I registered as an independent. Eventually I came to the realization that third-party candidates have little chance of winning a national election, and I desired to participate in primary elections. Before declaring, though, I researched both parties. It became clear that my personal political philosophy was much more in line with the Republican “smaller government” and fiscally conservative mindset. I am pro-choice, support my gay and lesbian friend’s rights, and would like to remind you that Affirmative Action was the brain-child of an African-American Republican!
    I am in my nineteenth year as a public school special education teacher, active in my church, and am involved with several community service programs. My sons attended public school, are Eagle Scouts, and Naval Academy graduates (currently on active duty). Do I sound like someone who doesn’t care about children or support public education? Just because I do not agree with the redistribution of wealth and reckless government spending on abused social programs does not make me heartless. Basically, I believe that the system is broken and that America needs to control it’s irresponsible spending if it is to survive. I do not intend to engage in a dialogue about these other topics, but it should suffice to explain that my choice to be a Republican is based on more than one issue.
    I think, sirs, that you “drank the Kool-Aid”. You need to do some homework about what the Republican Party TRULY embodies in philosophy, and the diversity of it’s membership!
    I do not support charter schools, school choice, or vouchers. It is my belief that this is being driven by the Republican desire to weaken the unions which tend to support Democratic candidates. Private and charter school teachers are not members of unions, and less students in public schools translates into less union power! The price we will pay for this, however, is the lowering of the quality of education our children will receive. Unfortunately, in NJ many of our Democratic representatives also support these reforms. No, I don’t understand why. Perhaps their children attend private schools. :).

    Choosing a political party with which to affiliate should not be based on one component of what the party’s current initiatives are – even when it affects your profession. I’m a Republican because I support the party’s overall philosophy, not because I support vouchers.
    We Republican public educators need to let the party leadership know where we stand, and work from within for reform. Most importantly, educators need to move beyond political stereotypes which divide us and recognize that both Democratic and Republican teachers want what is best for our children – and that not all Republicans support the proposed educational reforms.

  2. Thanks to all the Republican members of NEA’s Indiana affiliate who stepped up to lobby their state legislators this last year when so many negative bills were on the agenda. We appreciate them and hope there will be more Republican member activists in the future.

    There are Republican policymakers who understand that reducing the number who will be unemployed, incarcerated, or on welfare tomorrow depends on public schools’ success with students today. But these Republicans need support if they are to survive Primary challenges from those who see the costs but not the value of a good public education.

    There is a decided preference among many Republican lawmakers for private and charter school funding, even though such schools are selective in enrollments. Voucher and charter schools enroll those with higher scores, higher attendance, English language skills, fewer if any disabilities, and – their biggest advantage – those with motivated parents. It’s difficult to understand how draining public schools of such students and parents will improve public schools or the futures of the children they continue to serve.

    However, this is where Republican members can make the most difference.

    Funds for vouchers and charters came right off the top of the state budget – depleting funds for ALL public schools – not just those in urban centers. Voucher funds depleted funds for both charter schools and public schools; charter funds further depleted funds for traditional public schools.

    When Republican members and public school patrons raise their voices and engage in campaign activism to challenge those who cut public schools to fund charter and private schools, cuts to public schools will no longer be an attractive political or educational option.

    Fracturing public school funds and students among 3 school systems – public, charter, and private schools – is jeopardizing the success of all three.

    Already church parishioners who have no children in parochial schools indicate that they no longer need to be involved in or financially support their parish schools because government funds will fill in the gaps. It does take a community (a village) of well-intended people to raise, nurture and educate children well, but the villages are being fractured in both public and private schools.

    Our students would be better served by making one system that is equally open to all students a really good one. With Republican majorities controlling Indiana state government, Republican activists are in a better position than anyone to make that case.

  3. Did you not read the article? Not only is there a Republican educator, but there are over 1 million of us who happen to be dues-paying NEA members. As the article mentioned, there are many pro-education, pro-labor Republican candidates out there who need our support against the ultra right-wing so-called Republicans who have highjacked the party at the expense of our students and our jobs. Let’s drop the party line politics and start working together as educators and an association to do what is best for our students and our profession.

  4. Are these people out of their minds? The Republicans have been out to destroy public education now for years; they want to eliminate tenure in states that have it; they want to cut or outright eliminate pensions, they want to lower teachers’ incomes. I’m retired now, but when I was teaching I knew a few Republicans. All of them were either double income (spouse a teacher) or “vacation home” income (spouse a rich lawyer, doctor, dentist, or businessman). I will conclude because if I get myself worked up here you would wipe out my comments anyway as unsuitable for this message board.

    1. If the NEA didn’t get involved with issues and approaches to education that extend well beyond funding, then perhaps their supporters might have legitimate complaints over educators who don’t support their democratic bent. As it stands, the NEA particiaptes in radical politics that veers well into territory that persons who are not radical liberals have a hard time getting behind.

      The teachers Union should not be so politicized. They should negotiate contracts and leave the rest of the policy to the government its constituents. Taking dues and tax money for anything beyond contract support is abusive of their power in respect to their considerable conservative teacher base who are practically forced to pay it dues for the privilege of having a teaching career. The NEA and related organizations should be tools for teachers and not ideological gatekeepers.

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