By Nick Anderson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, October 6, 2010; 12:39 PM
The nation's largest teachers union is jumping into the midterm congressional elections, mostly on behalf of Democrats, with what it describes as a $15 million advertising fund "to elect education champions."
The National Education Association's foray into dozens of battleground races comes despite President Obama's advocacy of school-improvement policies that rankle many union activists, such as teacher performance pay and staff shakeups at low-performing schools.
Karen M. White, the NEA's political director, said the 3.2 million-member union is in sync with Obama more often than not. As an example, she pointed to his support for a $10 billion education funding bill that the Democratic-led Congress passed in August over Republican opposition.
"That education jobs bill got so many of our members engaged," White said. "It was a turning point for us."
She played down controversy over Obama's school reform agenda as "bumps in the road," adding, "we share the same goals as this administration."
Critics of the union say that it stands for the status quo in education and against innovation, which the NEA disputes. The next Congress is likely to debate revisions to the 2002 No Child Left Behind law, a key issue for the union.
Overall, White said, the union plans $40 million in political spending this election cycle. In dozens of targeted races, most of the union's recommended candidates are Democrats. But NEA officials said they are backing selected Republicans who have supported their causes, including Sen. Lisa Murkowski (Alaska) and Reps. Anh "Joseph" Cao (La.) and Judy Biggert (Ill.).
The American Federation of Teachers, with 1.5 million members, declined to discuss its political spending.