The political action committee of the National Education Association is recommending that the nation’s largest labor union endorse Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential contest.
The PAC, known as the NEA Fund for Children and Public Education, made the decision at its quarterly meeting in Washington on Thursday.
The recommendation now goes to the NEA’s 174-member Board of Directors, which is meeting on Friday and Saturday. To win the endorsement, Clinton needs at least 58 percent of the board to vote for her, and most observers believe she’ll clear that hurdle.
But that doesn’t mean there is unanimous support for Clinton among teachers.
The Vermont NEA has already endorsed Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, its home state senator, for the White House. And there’s an effort underway among other affiliates to show support for Sanders. At the NEA annual meeting in the summer, the most enthusiastic cheers went up for Sanders, when NEA President Lily Eskelsen García mentioned the three Democratic candidates, according to Education Week.
As part of the vetting process, the NEA sent questionnaires to all presidential candidates, Democrats and Republicans, but only Clinton, Sanders and former Maryland governor Martin O’Malley responded. They each sat for a videotaped interview with Eskelsen García.
Clinton struck a particularly sympathetic tone in her interview with the NEA, telling the union that people are “dead wrong to make teachers scapegoats for all of society’s problems.”
Clinton’s relations with teachers unions didn’t begin as smoothly when she first entered public life. As first lady of Arkansas in 1982, Clinton pushed to broaden course offerings in public schools, smaller class sizes and institute competency testing for teachers — an idea that provoked a fierce pushback from the unions.
But as a first lady and then a U.S. senator, Clinton promoted policies much more friendly to the teachers unions, including expanding preschool and after-school programs. As a presidential candidate in 2008, she opposed merit pay for teachers, another stance in line with the unions.
NEA is the nation’s largest labor union and represents nearly 3 million educators, including elementary and secondary classroom teachers, paraprofessionals, administrators and higher education faculty.
In July, the American Federation of Teachers became the first labor union to endorse a candidate, giving the nod to Clinton. The endorsement was not a surprise to close observers — the AFT had supported Clinton in 2008 instead of Barack Obama — but the early timing may be designed to give Clinton a boost against Sanders, who has been surging as she has been slumping.
That move sparked a backlash among rank and file within the AFT, members who either prefer Sanders or argued that the endorsement was premature and robbed the union of leverage.
The 1.6 million-member AFT, along with the NEA, have been under siege from elements within both the Democratic and Republican parties.
The unions have been fighting the expansion of public charter schools, which are largely not unionized, as well as teacher evaluations based on test scores and challenges to tenure and other workplace protections.
Both unions have been critical of many of the education policies of the Obama administration, saying they have led to a “blame the teacher” culture. They argue that evaluating teachers based on student test scores does not recognize the complexities of teaching students who often come from impoverished homes or struggle with disabilities and language barriers that affect their achievement.