Analysis: In 2008, the NEA Demanded a Limited Federal Role in Education. Its Policy Wish List for 2021 Is Very Different
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Shortly after the recent Election Day, the National Education Association (NEA) released its "Policy Playbook" for the incoming Biden administration. This publication attracted attention from conservative news outlets due to its extensive list of recommendations, which included the following:
1. Temporarily suspend federal academic testing requirements until the COVID-19 crisis is resolved.
2. Oppose any expansion of charter schools that undermines traditional public schools.
3. Reject charter schools that operate exclusively online.
4. Forgive the student loan debts of experienced educators.
5. Work with Congress to secure a minimum of $175 billion in additional federal emergency aid to stabilize public education funding.
6. Quadruple the federal investment in Title I.
7. Implement a nationwide mask mandate and make COVID-19 relief funding contingent upon the effective implementation of mitigation strategies.
8. Appoint additional judges to the federal courts.
9. Strengthen Social Security by removing the maximum taxable earnings cap, but oppose mandatory coverage of public employees under Social Security for employee groups that have chosen not to participate.
10. Resist establishing "arbitrary maximum limits on any state or local government’s ability to spend or tax."
11. Make federal education funding conditional upon state and local laws or policies that permit collective bargaining.
Issuing recommendations is not new for the NEA, as it did so when a Democrat was last elected to the White House in 2008. At that time, the union’s primary request was for the Obama administration to support the principles outlined in NEA’s Great Public Schools for Every Student By 2020 initiative.
However, the NEA’s policy playbook from July 2008 had a different perspective on the federal government’s role in public education. The focus then was on dismantling the No Child Left Behind Act and advocating for the importance of the 10th Amendment.
According to the report, the No Child Left Behind Act significantly expanded the federal government’s involvement in education, which the union believed hindered education reform efforts at the state level. The NEA emphasized that education is a responsibility reserved for the states, with funding primarily provided at the state level. They believed the federal government’s role should be to provide support, resources, data collection, and monitoring to ensure that states address achievement gaps and disparities.
The NEA of 2008 acknowledged that some public schools were failing to meet the needs of certain student populations, particularly those from low-income and minority backgrounds. They also emphasized the importance of fiscal accountability in schools.
The union expressed a willingness to cooperate and called for an end to divisive politics. However, their desired limited federal role and hopes for a new dialogue and partnership were not realized. Just two months after President Barack Obama’s inauguration in 2009, headlines were already highlighting confrontations between Obama and the teachers’ unions. Union complaints became public knowledge by September of that year, and by July 2010, tensions had escalated to the point of open warfare.
As we enter 2021, the goal of achieving great public schools for every student by 2020 remains unfulfilled. Instead, most Americans would settle for mediocre public schools that are open. It remains to be seen if the NEA’s current call for highly intrusive federal actions will fare better than their previous calls for limiting federal involvement in 2008.