Extracurricular Activities

Tallying up the National Education Association's agenda


The National Education Association prefers to call itself an "organization committed to advancing the cause of public education" rather than a teachers union. But, as a new report from the Virginia-based Alexis de Tocqueville Institute observes, a review of the NEA's Legislative Program for the 104th Congress "reveals that the [group's] public policy agenda would be extremely costly for America's children."

Using cost estimates from the texts of congressional bills and studies by the Congressional Budget Office, John E. Berthoud, vice president of the institute, says that if every NEA proposal became law, federal spending would jump by about $702 billion per year. If the extra burdens were paid by increasing taxes, the total would come to about $10,500 per family of four. "The most likely outcome," writes Berthoud, "is that much of this new spending will be financed by bigger federal deficits."

Some of the big-ticket items are hardly surprising. The NEA proposes, for instance, a $5.6 billion increase in federal funding of primary and secondary education, a $4.3 billion boost in early childhood education programs such as Head Start, and a $12.4 billion program to protect students and employees from environmental, health, and safety hazards.

But much of the NEA's agenda, says the report, has nothing to do with education. Among other initiatives, the union supports a single-payer health care system, assistance to areas hurt by shutdowns of army bases and other federal facilities, and protecting current levels of Medicare and Medicaid benefits. The NEA also supports increasing total Social Security payments by $126.8 billion–about five times the total of its education-related proposals–and lowering the age at which people become eligible for full retirement benefits. A spokesperson for the NEA said she had no knowledge of the study and could not comment on it.

"Despite NEA's claims to be an organization concerned first and foremost with children," writes Berthoud, "their legislative wish list has a strong bias in favor of today's retirees…the NEA would exacerbate the problem posed by entitlements for future generations by actually increasing spending on today's beneficiaries."