National Education Association
Founded1857; 167 years ago (1857)
HeadquartersWashington, D.C., U.S.
  • United States
2,872,000 (2022)[1]
Key people
Becky Pringle, president
AffiliationsEducation International
General meeting, National Education Association on July 3, 1916, at Madison Square Garden, New York City

The National Education Association (NEA) is the largest labor union in the United States.[2] It represents public school teachers and other support personnel, faculty and staffers at colleges and universities, retired educators, and college students preparing to become teachers. The NEA has just under 3 million members and is headquartered in Washington, D.C.[3] The NEA had a budget of more than $341 million for the 2012–2013 fiscal year.[4] Becky Pringle is the NEA's current president.[5][6]

During the early 20th century, the National Education Association was among the leading progressive advocates of establishing a United States Department of Education.[7]

Driven by pressure from teacher organizing, by the 1970s the NEA transformed from an education advocacy organization to a rank-and-file union. In the decades since, the association has continued to represent organized teachers and other school workers in collective bargaining and to lobby for progressive education policy.[8] The NEA's political agenda frequently brings it into conflict with conservative interest groups.[9] State affiliates of the NEA regularly lobby state legislators for funding, seek to influence education policy, and file legal actions.

At the national level, the NEA lobbies the United States Congress and federal agencies and is active in the nominating process for Democratic candidates.[10] From 1989 through the 2014 election cycle, the NEA spent over $92 million on political campaign contributions, 97% of which went to Democrats.[11]

Structure and governance

The NEA has a membership of just under 3 million people, with membership levels dropping every year since 2010.[12] The NEA is incorporated as a professional association in a few states and as a Trade union in most. The group holds a congressional charter under Title 36 of the United States Code. It is not a member of the AFL–CIO, but is part of Education International, the global federation of teachers' unions.[13]

NEA members set the union's policies through the Representative Assembly (RA). The RA, which is a delegation comprising elected representatives from each local and state affiliate, coalitions of student members and retired members, and other segments of the united education profession—is the primary legislative and policy-making body of the NEA.[14]

As of 2020, the executive officers of the NEA are Rebecca Pringle (President), Princess Moss (Vice President), Noel Candelaria (Secretary-Treasurer) and Kim A. Anderson (Executive Director). These posts are elected by the Representative Assembly.[5][14][15]

The board of directors and executive committee are responsible for the general policies and interests of the NEA. The board of directors consists of one director from each state affiliate (plus an additional director for every 20,000 active members in the state), six directors for the retired members, and three directors for the student members. The board also includes at-large representatives of ethnic minorities, administrators, classroom teachers in higher education, and active members employed in educational support positions.[16]



The NEA was founded in Philadelphia in 1857 as the National Teachers Association (NTA).[17] Zalmon Richards was elected the NTA's first president and presided over the organization's first annual meeting in 1858.[18] The NTA became the National Education Association (NEA) in 1870 when it merged with the American Normal School Association, the National Association of School Superintendents, and the Central College Association.[19] The union was chartered by Congress in 1906.[18][20]


NEA officially merged with the American Teachers Association, the historically black teachers association founded as the National Association of Teachers in Colored Schools, in 1966.[21]

In 1998, a tentative merger agreement was reached between NEA and American Federation of Teachers (AFT) negotiators, but ratification failed soundly in the NEA's Representative Assembly meeting in New Orleans in early July 1998.[22]

However, five NEA state affiliates have merged with their AFT counterparts. Mergers occurred in Florida (the Florida Education Association formed in 2000); Minnesota (Education Minnesota formed in 1998), Montana (MEA-MFT formed in 2000), New York (New York State United Teachers formed in 2006) and North Dakota. North Dakota United formed in 2013.[23]

Membership trends

Membership (US records; ×1000)[24]
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Finances (US records; ×$1000)[24]
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     Assets      Liabilities      Receipts      Disbursements

Before the 1960s, only a small portion of public school teachers were unionized. That began to change in 1959, when Wisconsin became the first state to pass a collective bargaining law for public employees.[25] Over the next 20 years, most other states adopted similar laws. The NEA reported a membership of 766,000 in 1961.[26]

In the 1960s, the NEA's demographics were changing. This was due to the merger with ATA and the decision to become a true labor union, among other factors.[27] In 1967, the NEA elected its first Hispanic president, Braulio Alonso.[28] In 1968, NEA elected its first black president, Elizabeth Duncan Koontz.[29]

In 2006, the NEA and the AFL–CIO also announced that, for the first time, stand-alone NEA locals as well as those that had merged with the AFT would be allowed to join state and local labor federations affiliated with the AFL-CIO.[30]

In 2007, at the 150th anniversary of its founding, NEA membership had grown to 3.2 million.[31] However, by July 2012, USA Today reported that NEA had lost nearly 0.3% of their members each year since 2010.[32]

Following the Supreme Court's 2018 Janus v. AFSCME case, which ended the compulsion of non-union, public employees to pay agency fees, or what are colloquially known as 'fair-share fees,' the NEA's total membership and agency fee payers dropped from 3,074,841 on its November 28, 2017, report[33] to 2,975,933 in its August 31, 2019, report,[34] a total loss of 98,908 dues payers.

Notable members


For most of the 20th century, the NEA represented the public school administration in small towns and rural areas. The state organizations played a major role in policy formation for the NEA. After 1957, the NEA reoriented itself to primarily represent the teachers in those districts, rather than just the administrators. It came to resemble the rival American Federation of Teachers (AFT), which was a labor union for teachers in larger cities. The success of the AFT in raising wages through strike activity encouraged the NEA to undertake similar activities. In the 1970s, more militant politics came to characterize the NEA. It created the NEA Political Action Committee to engage in local election campaigns, and it began endorsing political candidates who supported its policy goals. State NEA branches became less important as the national and local levels began direct and unmediated relationships. The NEA's elected leadership often supported teachers in opposition to school administrators.[41]

According to NEA's Department of Labor records since 2005, when membership classifications were first reported, the majority of the union's membership are "active professional" members, having fallen only slightly from 74% to the current 71%. The second largest category have been "active education support professional" members, with about 15%. The third largest category are "retired" members, which have grown from 8% to 10%. Two other categories, "active life" and "student" members, have both remained with around 2%, falling slightly. These categories are eligible to vote in the union, though the union lists some comparatively marginal categories which are not eligible to vote: "staff", "substitute" and "reserve" members, each with less than 1% of the union's membership. NEA contracts also cover some non-members, known as agency fee payers, which since 2006 have numbered comparatively about 3% of the size of the union's membership.[24][42]

As of 2014 these categories account for about: 2.1 million "active professionals", 457,000 "active education support professionals", 300,000 "retirees", 52,000 "students", 42,000 "active life" members, and just under nine thousand others, plus about 90,000 non-members paying agency fees.[3]


Most NEA funding comes from dues paid by its members ($295 million in dues from a $341 million total budget in 2005).[43] Typically, local chapters negotiate a contract with automatic deduction of dues from members' paychecks. Part of the dues remain with the local affiliate (the district association), a portion goes to the state association, and a portion is given to the national association. The NEA returned 39 percent of dues money back to state affiliates in 2021 and 2022.[44]

Federal law prohibits unions from using dues money or other assets to contribute to or otherwise assist federal candidates or political parties, in accordance with their tax-exempt status. The NEA Fund for Children and Public Education is a special fund for voluntary contributions from NEA members which can legally be used to assist candidates and political parties. Critics have repeatedly questioned the NEA's actual compliance with such laws, and a number of legal actions focusing on the union's use of money and union personnel in partisan contexts have ensued.[45]

Read Across America Day

Hillary Clinton reads a book to an African-American grade-schooler in Maryland during Read Across America Day in 1998
Hillary Clinton participates in Read Across America Day in Maryland, 1998.

National Read Across America Day is an NEA initiative to encourage reading. It has expanded into a year-long program with special celebrations in March as National Reading Month. Read Across America Day began in 1998, on March 2 which was the birthday of the popular children's author, Dr. Seuss. The NEA partnered with Dr. Seuss Enterprises on the venture from 1997 to 2018, when the contract ended.[46] Since 2017, NEA's Read Across America focuses on the importance, value, and fun of reading and sharing diverse books and "celebrating a nation of diverse readers".[47]

Policy positions

The NEA has taken positions on policy issues including:

In 2020, the union along with the American Federation of Teachers issued a report expressing opposition to active shooter drills being held in schools, calling on the drills to be revised or eliminated.[60]

Political activities

The National Education Association headquarters located at 1201 16th Street near the White House.

NEA has played a role in politics since its founding, as it has sought to influence state and federal laws that would affect public education. The extent to which the NEA and its state and local affiliates engage in political activities, especially during election cycles, has been a source of controversy.[10]

The organization tracks legislation related to education and the teaching profession and encourages members to get involved in politics.[61]

In recent decades the NEA has increased its visibility in party politics, endorsing more Democratic Party candidates and contributing funds and other assistance to political campaigns. The NEA asserts itself as "non-partisan", but critics point out that the NEA has endorsed and provided support for every Democratic presidential nominee from Jimmy Carter to Barack Obama and has never endorsed any Republican or third party candidate for the presidency.[82]

Based on required filings with the federal government, it is estimated that between 1990 and 2002, eighty percent of the NEA's substantial political contributions went to Democratic Party candidates and ninety five percent of contributions went to Democrats in 2012.[83] the NEA maintains that it bases support for candidates primarily on the organization's interpretation of candidates' support for public education and educators. Every presidential candidate endorsed by the NEA must be recommended by the NEA's PAC Council (composed of representatives from every state and caucus) and approved by the Board of Directors by a 58 percent majority.[84] In October 2015, the NEA endorsed Hillary Clinton's 2016 presidential bid. Clinton accepted the endorsement in person.[85][86]

The NEA is a member of the U.S. Global Leadership Coalition.[87]

Legislation opposed and supported

In September 2013, the NEA wrote an open letter to the United States House of Representatives opposing the Continuing Appropriations Resolution, 2014 (H.J.Res 59; 113th Congress).[88] The NEA urged representatives to vote no because the bill "continues the devastating cuts to education set in motion by the sequester and permanently defunds the Affordable Care Act."[88] The organization stated that they may decide to use the vote on this bill in their NEA Legislative Report Card for the 113th Congress.[88]


Some critics have alleged the NEA puts the interests of teachers ahead of students.[89] The NEA has often opposed measures such as merit pay, school vouchers, weakening of teacher tenure, certain curricular changes, the No Child Left Behind Act, and other reforms that make it easier for school districts to use disciplinary action against teachers. In July 2019, the NEA voted down a resolution that would have "re-dedicate[d] itself to the pursuit of increased student learning in every public school in America by putting a renewed emphasis on quality education".[90]

With the modern scrutiny placed on teacher misconduct, particularly regarding sexual abuse, the NEA has been criticized for its alleged failure to crack down on abusive teachers. From an Associated Press investigation, former NEA President Reg Weaver commented, "Students must be protected from sexual predators and abuse, and teachers must be protected from false accusations". He then refused to be interviewed.[91] The Associated Press reported that much of the resistance to report the problem comes from "where fellow teachers look away", and "school administrators make behind-the-scenes deals".[91]

Inclusion of the "NEA Ex-Gay Caucus" at a convention in 2006 sparked controversy.[92][93] Some critics believe the NEA promotes a gay rights agenda, especially since the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals 2005 case Fields v. Palmdale School District. The case originated when some California elementary school students were administered a school survey containing sexual questions. Parents, who had not been told the survey would contain questions of a sexual nature, brought the case forward.[94] The court in that case initially ruled that parents' fundamental right to control the upbringing of their children "does not extend beyond the threshold of the school door", which upon petition for rehearing was struck and clarified to "does not entitle individual parents to enjoin school boards from providing information the boards determine to be appropriate in connection with the performance of their educational functions",[95] and that a public school has the right to provide its students with "whatever information it wishes to provide, sexual or otherwise".[96] NEA states that it does not "encourage schools to teach students to become gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgendered (LGBT)", but the NEA does believe that "schools should be safe for all students and advocates that schools should raise awareness of homophobia and intervene when LGBT students are harassed".[97]

A leading critic of NEA from the left is Dr. Rich Gibson, whose article on the NEA–AFT merger convention outlines a critique of unionism itself.[98]


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