Does the National Education Association actually care about education?
Earlier this month, that organization endorsed David McKinley over Kendra Fershee
Fershee's priorities and passions
One of the go-to sites to learn about candidates and what they stand for is Ballotpedia. As they do with challengers like Kendra Fershee, Republican David McKinley's Democratic opponent in West Virginia first congressional district, the site asked the candidate a number of questions about why she was running and what she believed in. The first question in the survey was "What would be your top three priorities, if elected?" Here's Fershee's first priority:
Increased federal education funding and opposition to Betsy DeVos's voucher programs/budget cuts.
The next question wanted to know "what areas of public policy are you personally passionate about?" Fershee began her response with
I am passionate about increasing education funding.
Apparently, those answers, as well as the fact that she is a public educator, were not good enough for the National Education Association -- they endorsed David McKinley instead.
McKinley's hasn't said much or done much on education
Fiscally conservative, first elected to Congress as part of the Tea Party movement, it's difficult to find many McKinley votes and statements that could lead the nation's largest teacher union to endorse him over Fershee. McKinley's congressional webpage lists nine contemporary issues (taxes, health care, 2nd Amendment, etc.) but education is not among them. Similarly, his re-election site focuses on a number of topics but ignores the issue of education. How important are education issues to McKinley if neither site features them? More importantly, why did the NEA endorse him rather than Fershee?
Searching for an answer as to why the NEA endorsed David McKinley
In looking for an answer to that question, I discovered The 74 website with its mission statement:
The 74 is a non-profit, non-partisan news site covering education in America. Our public education system is in crisis. In the United States, less than half of our students can read or do math at grade-level, yet the education debate is dominated by misinformation and political spin. Our mission is to lead an honest, fact-based conversation about how to give America’s 74 million children under the age of 18 the education they deserve.
Earlier this month, The 74 carried the following article:
Meet the NEA Republicans: The National Education Association Just Recommended 289 House Candidates — Including These 10 Conservatives
McKinley is among those ten conservatives. Here is their analysis on why McKinley and nine fellow Republicans were included:
With Democrats so overwhelmingly represented, how does a Republican make the NEA’s cut? The union says it requires candidates to commit to support public education. That may be necessary, but it’s not sufficient.
You also need to be an incumbent, as all 10 NEA Republicans are. I’m not aware of the national union ever supporting a Republican challenger against a Democratic incumbent in Congress.
You need to be in a district with a Republican advantage in voter registration. The 10 Republicans hold seats in districts with a registration advantage ranging from +1 to +20.
Your chances for re-election have to be extremely good.
According to the article, McKinley has better than a 99.9% chance of winning.
In the long run, does it matter whether or not the NEA endorsed McKinley?
Union endorsements are probably not nearly as important as they once were and I doubt that this one will affect how teachers actually vote. With that said, there are good reasons why an endorsement matters. One is union money. So far, the NEA has given $5,000 to the McKinley campaign. That's minor stuff for a campaign that has raised almost $1.2 million. Fershee, on the hand, has only raised $224,000. The $5,000 would have been 2% of what she raised and it would have helped her campaign.
Perhaps more importantly, the NEA endorsement gives McKinley credit where credit may not be due -- just look how quickly McKinley's supporters took advantage of their action. This past Saturday, the Wheeling Intelligencer endorsed him in an editorial suggesting his support was wide and varied:
McKinley began serving the First District of West Virginia in the House of Representatives in January 2011. Since then, his record has drawn support from a wide variety of organizations and associations.
Just during the current election cycle, McKinley has been endorsed by the National Education Association, National Rifle Association, United Mine Workers, West Virginia Farm Bureau and the Campaign for Working Families, to name a few.
Teachers are respected in West Virginia. The NEA's endorsement does matter. Sadly, McKinley did nothing to deserve it and I doubt that he'll become pro-teacher as a result of it. The differences between McKinley and Fershee are major and not just on education. The NEA could have supported Fershee for all the right reasons. Instead they chose the most-likely winner.
Perhaps the E in NEA actually stands for expedient.