It’s time to rein in the national teachers’ union

Likely unbeknownst to many (including me, originally) the National Education Association — the largest teachers’ union in the country — has a federal charter that was issued by the U.S. Congress back in 1906. It essentially is a federal statute that establishes a corporation, stating the purpose, powers, and activities of a group.

The NEA was chartered within the private, nonprofit corporations category, which includes corporations chartered for their patriotic, civic-improvement, charitable, or educational purposes.

But the political behemoth the NEA is today is vastly different from the professional association that received this congressional charter in the 20th century.

Given the straying from/exceeding of the purposes of the organization established by the NEA’s current federal charter (discussed more below), it is time for Congress to amend it and reform the organization’s priorities, governance, and practices.


When the NEA was originally incorporated in the District of Columbia in 1886, it operated more as a professional association than a labor union until collective bargaining in government became widespread in the 1960s and 1970s, documents Maxford Nelsen with the Freedom Foundation.

With a total of 95 “patriotic and national organizations” that have received federal charters over the years — the Boy Scouts, the American Red Cross, the U.S. Olympic Committee, Little League Baseball, the Veterans of Foreign Wars, to name a few — the NEA is the only labor union with such a charter and stands out “[a]mong such storied American institutions…as a lightning rod for controversy given its partisan political advocacy and willingness to bring its ponderous weight to bear on nearly every significant subject dividing the country,” continues Nelsen.

Why not just repeal it?

Given that federal charters “generally confer few practical benefits beyond whatever prestige accompanies such charters,” revoking the NEA’s charter “would not strip the union of its corporate existence or meaningfully require it to alter its operations” because its incorporation “preceded and exists concurrently with its federal charter,” explains Nelsen. “Consequently, repealing the NEA’s charter would do little more than signal congressional disapproval of the organization.”

Instead, if Congress amends the NEA’s charter — which it has the right to do — it could limit the teacher union’s ability to engage in political activity and lobbying and return it to its original purpose, as stated in the charter, of “elevat[ing] the character and advanc[ing] the interests of the profession of teaching” and “promot[ing] the cause of education in the United States.”

We know that the NEA of today does not have such a noble purpose, not only based on its political agenda but also its prioritization of pushing a social agenda versus student learning.

During its 2019 annual convention, a proposal focused on the union “re-dedicat[ing] itself to the pursuit of increased student learning in every public school in America by putting a renewed emphasis on quality education” was defeated. The resolution continued by saying student learning should be the NEA’s priority and that resources should be focused on student learning because it is a “core idea[l] of our organization.”

By reforming the NEA’s charter, its most objectionable conduct could be curbed, and its excesses could be reined in, note Freedom Foundation CEO Aaron Withe and U.S. Rep. Scott Fitzgerald in The Wall Street Journal.


Enter the “Stopping Teachers Unions from Damaging Education Needs Today (STUDENT) Act,” introduced by U.S. Rep Scott Fitzgerald (WI) in July to reform the NEA’s federal charter and add accountability and transparency provisions commonly found in other federal charters. American Experiment, the Upper Midwest Law Center, and nearly a dozen other organizations have endorsed the bill.

“Since receiving its federal charter the NEA has strayed far from its original purpose, becoming little more than a political machine masking as an advocate for public education and students,” said the Congressman in a press release.“I introduced the STUDENT Act to rein in some of the worst practices to help make the NEA less divisive, more in line with other federally-chartered organizations, and more responsive to the needs to students.”

The STUDENT Act has been assigned to the House Judiciary Committee where it awaits a hearing.

The Act’s NEA charter reforms include:

  1. Prohibiting the NEA from engaging in electoral politics and lobbying.
  2. Prohibiting the NEA from engaging in discrimination or employing quotas based on protected characteristics like race.
  3. Establishing requirements for the maintenance and inspection of NEA’s corporate records.
  4. Requiring the NEA to submit an annual report to Congress.
  5. Fully repealing the NEA’s D.C. property tax exemption.
  6. Requiring the NEA to maintain tax-exempt status.
  7. Requiring the NEA’s governance structure to be representative of its membership.
  8. Prohibiting the NEA from collecting dues from a public employee unless the employee has been notified of their right to refuse, and has affirmatively consented, and requiring the NEA to collect dues without the use of government payroll systems.
  9. Prohibiting taxpayer-funded release time for NEA officers.
  10. Barring the NEA from incorporating the core tenets of Critical Race Theory into its governance, operations, and advocacy.

Read the full list here, and more background about each reform here.