John, Alternatives to the VEA Do Exist!

by Steve Haner

Dear “John Randolph of Roanoke,” you very much have a choice if you are tired of paying dues to the Virginia Education Association. I saw your lament in the comment string on Jim Bacon’s report today about pending legislation to force non-union employees to pay union dues.

“Can’t drop out though. These guys are the only ones that will go to bat for me if I am falsely accused of something at school. We are so wide open and vulnerable these days. I guess I have the wolf by the ears.”

Here is information on three alternatives you might consider, with up to $2 million of professional liability coverage offered for far less cost than VEA dues.   You can choose from:

I should disclose that promoting these choices is a goal for the Thomas Jefferson Institute for Public Policy. Chris Braunlich posted on Bacon’s Rebellion during last session promoting legislation to allow those groups equal access to teachers within public school benefit forums, a bill the VEA barely defeated when one GOP delegate voted with all the Democrats on the House Education Committee. (Former) Del. Gordon Helsel did it twice.

This year, of course, the VEA won’t need any GOP votes to kill that idea.

These alternate groups claim they stay away from political contributions and endorsements, which is a reason their dues can be lower. But that is also why they face so many obstacles challenging the near monopoly clout of the VEA and its national parent (VPAP donation reports here and here.) Local elected school boards don’t dare let VEA’s competitors in the door.

Senate Majority Leader Richard Saslaw’s new bill looks like “the one,” given his previous statements of opposition to repealing Right to Work in the statute. But the unions don’t really want to force reluctant fellow workers to join, they just want their money. Reluctant members might upset the status quo, ask inconvenient questions, mount insurgent campaigns for union leadership. Just suck the bucks from their pay and send them packing. My prediction is that Governor Ralph Northam will sign this and still claim no harm to Right to Work.

The interesting thing on Saslaw’s Senate Bill 426 will be who on the side of the business community sidles up to him along with the unions, to curry favor with the new power structure. Watch for it. As one of our members said during my caucus days, when he had signed onto a Democrat governor’s tax bill without telling us: “If you want eggs, you have to be in the hen house.” It is Saslaw’s hen house now.

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8 responses to “John, Alternatives to the VEA Do Exist!

  1. Steve, thanks for the insight into the political economy of K-12 education. You can’t understand the Democrats’ approach to K-12 unless you understand the critical role played by the Virginia Education Association and how it perceives its interests. From what I can observe, the VEA is motivated by a mixture of ideology (increasingly progressive) and self interest. In all the years that I have covered public policy in Virginia, I have never seen a mainstream media outlet ever take an in-depth look at the VEA and how it operates. I still don’t comprehend why it is so powerful — although its ability to stifle competing organizations clearly is a factor.

  2. yea, would also like to hear John Randolph of Roanoke view…

    I think there are maybe 90,000 teachers in Virginia and VEA has maybe 40,000 of them. In Spotsylvania – it is NOT 1/2 of the teachers, more like 1/3 or 1/4… but they always manage to get a lot of folks out at the school budget hearings!

    Most parents – as long as they have kids in the schools – want as many programs as possible for their kids.. once their kids have left – not so much – then they turn into skinflints and “conservatives”. 😉 My mother-in-law, bless her soul – thought that once her kids were finished K-12, she should not have to pay taxes for schools! She never once looked at how much she paid in taxes versus the cost per kid per year and wonder where the rest of it came from.

  3. johnrandolphofroanoke

    Mr. Haner, I do appreciate you taking time to draw a lamplight to this issue. I am aware of the alternatives to the VEA and the Loudoun EA. I know of some teachers that are like minded that have joined other associations. I really did not discover the true nature of the VEA until the last few years. I chose to stay with because I knew I would have a representative with me in the principals office should I be falsely accused of something. I have no first or second hand examples of the competing associations being able to do such a thing. It is interesting how the VEA has spent $1.8 million dollars since 2005 supporting various candidates, PACS, and caucuses. Most of the dollars heading towards the Democrats. I have let leadership in the LEA and VEA know my views over the years but it doesn’t fit current trends to the narrative. They are at least polite when I try to engage them on commonsense approaches to problems teachers face. There is no doubt of the progressive leaning nature of the VEA. I think this was a callous that grew in response to the dismal failings of the Wilder and Allen visions of education in Virginia. You have to remember institutions like education move and change at a glacial speed. I think one reason why the VEA has held sway for so long was the work of a highly skilled paid lobbyist who has recently retired. I don’t know if his replacement has the same clout or not. Most members probably could not tell you exactly what the VEA is doing for them. Too busy grinding out daily life in and out of the classroom.

  4. John, thanks for sharing your perspective. It sounds like you’re not exactly a fan of the VEA but you do depend on them , for want of a better word, to protect you AND you have some doubts that other groups offer that as a benefit.

    Makes me wonder how many other teachers also feel that way and belonging to the VEA is a relationship of convenience not support of the rest of their mission.

    I’m pretty sure the folks who run VEA are well aware of that.

    I personally know of teachers who also depended on the VEA to defend them from wrongful actions… and I’m quite sure most of the other teachers that knew the teachers that VEA helped were well aware of the circumstances and may have influenced them to become or stay a member.

    It sounds a lot like an insurance policy which can be bought separately but perhaps large associations can offer it for less costs and so the cost of membership, at least to some, is just like paying an insurance premium.

    I think that VEA has about half the teachers in Virginia in it’s membership.

    I note that GOP elected and candidates make nice nice with the VEA down where I live… although they may not vote the way that VEA would like.

    But at the end of the day – what gives VEA their “clout” is not the effectiveness of their head lobby folks but the fact that they represent 40,000 members who – like the NRA – do vote AND influence parents who vote.

    While Conservative types rail against VEA – the simple truth is that they have a LOT of supporters – who do vote… and that’s where they get their MoJo from.

    It’s an inconvenient truth – that some dismiss as “elections have consequences”. Of course they do, but before that happens, a bunch of folks have to go to the polls and vote for – “elections that have consequences”.

    Conservative angst against the VEA is not so much their views – but the fact that they have significant influence in the GA – that apparently Conservatives do not understand why or pretend they do not but it’s a simple calculation – VEA members, and their families and the parents of kids they teach – they vote and most, but not all, support the VEA candidates and legislation. Not all, as you have alluded, but a LOT – enough that elected know they do.

    We’re now seeing the gun rights folks making their case that they too vote…

    All is good… Democracy at work………..

    • Larry: Yep, politicians of all ideological stripes pay attention to a packed room, a full email inbox, and other signs that real voters are awake and paying attention. Grassroots rules.

      John: Kudos for sticking it out in the classrooms. Close readers know I’m a big fan of that profession. It is indeed incumbent on these other associations, if they wish to thrive, to build and communicate a reputation for service. But they are struggling to even get heard.

  5. And you won’t find a bigger admirer of the education profession than myself. It’s one of the toughest non-life-threatening jobs on the planet and very few have the patience and stamina to do it under the conditions they have to do it.

    There are all kinds of people with all kinds of ideas of how public education should be done… and teachers are continually jerked around by those forces and also subject to be scapegoated by principles and administrators who find it easier to throw others under the bus rather than principally own their own efforts or get eaten by others higher up the food chain.

    Very good teachers are subjected to being career-damaged or destroyed by one willful parent out to get someone. Seen that happen and aware of it as a continuing threat to many who teach.

    HOWEVER, if the primary reason to belong to VEA is “insurance”, it would seem to be a worthy goal of Conservatives and others who want other groups to help those other groups set up their own really good insurance policy – just for the cost of the policy itself , no direct advocacy role at the local level or at the GA level.

    Then teachers COULD CHOOSE whether to just buy a policy or belong to an association…. looks like if some teachers had a choice – they’d just buy the policy and not belong to VEA.

    You pays your money and makes your choices!

  6. And just to point out – most law enforcement as well as fire and rescue have associations similar to the VEA that advocate for them and provide local and legal assistance when they are subjected to actions by their employer. VEA is not unique in it’s advocacy role for workers – they just have a higher profile…in part because Conservatives dislike their clout and their progressive nature!

    The problem is that Conservatives have pretty much made themselves enemies of public education. Oh they say not – but over and over their actions say otherwise and their efforts to undermine public education continue.

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