A Modern Approach to Educator Representation


I recently read a fantastic editorial by political strategist and analyst, Steve Gill, on the National Education Association, The Californication of the Teachers’ Union.  The article sheds much light on the union, the amplified influence by more liberal state affiliates like New York and California of the National Education Association, which makes them “loyal foot soldiers to advance liberal extremism.”  Mr. Gill makes a compelling case, and it is well worth the read.  I would have added:

  1. NEA and its affiliates had money difficulties well before the Supreme Court ruling in Janus v. AFSCME. As Mike Antonucci writes: The union “ability to adapt to a new environment depends less on their political and organizing skills and more on their willingness to reform themselves financially.”  So, why are union bosses seeing their salary continue to increase?
  2. Teacher Unions continue to put roadblocks in place to prevent their members from exercising their freedom of association. Often, they will use any legal means at their disposal to combat members who want to resign. Take, for example, the difficulty in terminating automatic drafts to pay membership dues. Unions often place a narrow window of opportunity for employees to drop union membership and escape the requirement of paying union dues or fees. For educators, that date may be limited to summer months and are designed to be inconveniently timed for members. In addition, unions blatantly will contribute to political candidates.
  3. When it comes to a private entity making a killing from public education, the teachers’ unions have the market cornered. The next time you hear a union boss talk about “privatizers” who seek to profit from public education, point out for them that “union leaders neglect to point out that teachers’ unions are themselves de facto corporations, though with a difference: all their income—money they get from teachers, voluntarily or otherwise—is tax-free. No teachers’ union—or any union—pays a penny in taxes.”  As teachers’ union watchdog Mike Antonucci writes, “The NEA sinks lots of money into mutual funds, which invest in big corporations, including “AT&T, Verizon, Target, Chevron, Exxon Mobil, IBM, Apple, Google, Facebook, Amazon, Comcast, Coca-Cola, Philip Morris, Microsoft, Boeing, JP Morgan Chase, Berkshire Hathaway, and Aramark.” The NEA “invests in 9 of the 10 richest corporations in the United States,” added Mr. Antonucci.
  4. Four unions combined to spend more than $1 billion on political activities since 2012, according to federal labor filings. Those four are the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), American Federation of State, County, & Municipal Employees (AFSCME), National Education Association (NEA), and American Federation of Teachers (AFT). This is a conservative estimate on public-sector union spending, since they do not count the spending of local unions or state chapters on such activities. Nearly all of the unions’ federal political contributions went to Democrats or advanced liberal causes, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.  Stan Greer who analyzed federal labor filings which disclose how much unions spend on political activities at the federal, state, and local level for the National Institute for Labor Relations Research (NILRR) wrote:  “Big labor is increasingly turning its focus away from workplace matters and more and more towards buying political influence.” No surprise.

The NEA’s unification policy, which means all members are forced to pay dues to the national association, effectively killed the independence of the local and state associations.  While national union bosses thought it would be a media coup to highlight their most recent convention online.  In reality, people got to see a group of very angry people often focused on issues completely unrelated to public education, mad that they lost compulsory unionism. Mickey Kaus, a blogger and the author of “The End of Equality,” and former Democratic candidate for U.S. senator from California, wrote: “the answer of most union leaders to the failure of 1950’s unionism has been more 1950’s unionism.” Most educators are not buying into a more militant, progressive labor movement beholden to the far left.

Educators nationally often spend hundreds, or sometimes even thousands of dollars per year on union dues.  There are much more cost-effective alternatives, like Professional Educators of Tennessee.   That is what makes groups like Professional Educators of Tennessee different.  We offer a modern approach to educator representation, legal protection and unmatched educational advocacy, as well as promoting professionalism, collaboration and excellence without a partisan agenda.  There are non-union alternatives for educators in other states as well.  Nobody wants to return the 1950’s.


JC Bowman is the Executive Director of Professional Educators of Tennessee, a non-partisan teacher association headquartered in Nashville, Tennessee.  Permission to reprint in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided that the author and the association are properly cited. For more information on this subject or any education issue please contact Professional Educators of Tennessee.

Political Endorsements? Values Still Matter


French writer André Gide penned one of the most notable quotes when he wrote: “It is better to be hated for what you are than to be loved for what you are not.” Gide was a depraved man, according to the standards of that day, and even as well as our own standards today.  His quote was indicative of someone searching to be himself, without betraying his personal battle over his lack of ethics.  It is similar today to many political endorsements.

I am always astounded at candidates that some groups choose to endorse, or groups who endorse certain political candidates.  Some endorsements can be very damaging to political candidates.  This leads to the question, why would the political candidate seek such an endorsement or accept money from an organization in which they do not share values?  Perhaps that candidate is in a failing political campaign and needs the money for a fledgling campaign?  Perhaps they are finally embracing their true values.  Is it a betrayal of values to even seek such an endorsement if you do not agree with the goals and objectives of the organization?  Most people probably would think so.   A pro-life candidate, for example, would probably not seek an endorsement from a pro-abortion organization or vice-versa.  Such a candidate would be branded a hypocrite.

The personal character of a candidate still matters.  Values such as honesty, reliability, and sincerity matter in life, and they matter on the campaign trial, especially when we elect people.  We need to elect politicians who say what they mean and mean what they say.  Elected officials who sell out their own values create cynical and dismayed citizens, alienate voters, and undercut their own credibility.  It is akin to the fruit of the poisonous tree analogy in the legal world.

Not only are many candidates willing to sell out their own values to the highest bidder, they are also likely to sell out their constituents once elected.  The insider game of election funding has impacted the well-being of our government.  The public policies that gets enacted if we keep electing these types of candidates, will only worsen.   We have seen good legislation stymied for untold reasons and transparency is no longer an option.   A vigorous competition of ideas should be welcome as it is a symbol of an effective system of government. When we fail to elect men and women of character, we get politicians committed to upholding the status quo and their own political preservation.  If that is the case both the fruit and the tree are poison.

Professional Educators of Tennessee does not endorse political candidates.  We work with everybody to strengthen public education.  Our members will choose, who they believe is the most qualified candidate at the ballot box.  They also know that we will never use dues dollars to fund the advancement of any politician, political party or agenda. While we may inform our members of candidates’ positions on educational issues, we do not tell our members how to vote or use our members’ dues dollars to pay for political campaigns. However, we do routinely monitor and inform our members of education-related legislative issues, and alert them of any legislation that has a direct impact.  We testify on legislation and work with agencies, elected officials and policymakers to develop and implement comprehensive strategies that address complex legislative, legal and regulatory problems impacting education statewide on behalf of our members. We do not spend tens of thousands of dollars to push for the advancement of non-educational causes.

Our political process must be welcoming to all citizens, resulting in representative, receptive and responsible government.  Politicians must be honest in who they are, and who they will be in public life.   We must ask those who are seeking political office if they really are who they say they are, or is it just a mask that can be stripped away?  Values still matter.


JC Bowman is the Executive Director of Professional Educators of Tennessee, a non-partisan teacher association headquartered in Nashville, Tennessee. Follow him on Twitter @jcbowman. Permission to reprint in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided that the author and the association are properly cited. 

The Changing Face of Advocacy


According to the Greek Mythology, the god, Helios, would put the Sun in a chariot and drive it through the sky each day.  That is how the Sun would rise and set.  Today, we would scoff at such a notion and understand that such a feat would be impossible.  We would think that people who would believe such a notion probably were not very intelligent and extremely gullible.  Such is the story of modern day lobbyists and advocates.

Frank R. Baumgartner, a Professor of Political Science at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill says there is no consistent correlation between money spent on lobbying and outcomes.  In his book, Lobbying and Policy Change: Who Wins, Who Loses, and Why, Baumgartner effectively proves that lobbyists are far less influential than political rhetoric suggests and that they fail to change policy despite millions of dollars spent trying. As to the why?  He points to an “entrenched system” with an enormous “bias in favor of the status quo.”

I have been on the forefront of policy change for over a quarter of a century, advocating for education.  It means that I have witnessed much the last three decades in Tennessee. I have seen policymakers come and go.  I have seen lobbyists come and go.  Next year, in 2019, we will see a new US Senator, a new Governor and perhaps as many as 35 new state legislators.  Campaign contributions, as important as those may be to the candidate, mean very little in the current system.  Money no longer “buys” votes, and it should never have done so in the first place.  Politicians now often receive contributions from interests on both sides of any issue.

It is amazing with the vast array of people lobbying on an issue that anyone or any group should take credit for the passage of any legislation.  The truth is that it is always a coalition of stakeholders building a compelling case on a political issue.  In the end, only the legislator votes.  So, any person or group who claims credit for a passage of legislation needs to be reminded of that truth.

In the end, we build coalitions work together, educate legislators on issues and count votes.  The legislator is the decisionmaker.  Advocates have three numbers you have to reach – 50, 17 and one:  50 votes in the House of Representatives, 17 in the Senate, and one from the Governor.  Only the Tennessee General Assembly deserves credit or blame for the passage of legislation.  In all the years that I have worked with legislators, I truthfully have found most to be honest, hard working people who want to do the right thing for their constituents.  I have also seen some who really do not listen, and these usually do not last long in the political arena.

The key to effective advocacy is relationships, which must be developed and also sustained.  Building relationships with lawmakers and other stakeholders means getting to know them, their personal interests and histories, and even their families. Having a relationship never guarantees support, but it does help to ensure that others will listen to you.  We must build networks and coalitions, around the objective of helping those you serve.  Stakeholders know what is likely to be taken serious by policymakers, sometimes just by whom introduces it, or who carries the legislation for the lobbyists.  We must also know how to correctly draft legislation to assist lawmakers who are overwhelmed during session.  We frequently see people try to put things in the wrong part of the code or use the wrong terminology. Advocates must identify people who support changing a policy and are willing to testify.  Those who advocate or lobby have to be taken seriously at the Capitol.  Then there is media coverage, which is a whole separate issue.  The media will cover an issue if they think voters or their audience are interested in the subject.

In advocacy, we have to be honest and transparent.  We have to tell the truth.  People can spot a snake-oil salesman a mile away.  A Cheshire cat grin and a fake tan will only take you so far.  Legislators do not like being lectured to when you testify.  The biggest mistake I see is when a know-it-all goes before a committee arrogantly and moralizes and lectures legislators.  People talk.  Just answer the question when asked, and don’t pontificate to hear your own voice by expounding on unrelated issues.  Conceit, excessive pride, combined with arrogance is called hubris.

When we engage in grassroots and direct advocacy with policymakers and key influencers around the state on behalf of public education policies, it reminds us that we live for a far greater purpose than just ourselves. Our impact is immeasurable and transforming.  It not only matters to the profession and our educators, it also matters to children and families across Tennessee.

Our experience here in Tennessee ensures our members’ concerns are heard at the Tennessee General Assembly and by other stakeholder groups. It also means we work with other groups on goals we want to achieve: some long-term, some short-term.  By doing this, we witness and help facilitate minor and major shifts in education policies and observe and work with changing political leaders.  And we must remember, these new education policies can have a positive or negative impact on educators or children.  We work the entire year focused on the priorities of our organization and our members.  However, we do not do it alone.  We accomplish our goals by working with others and through elected officials.

Leaders also need mountains to climb.  We and they also realize that they cannot solve every problem on our own. Leadership is about giving.  Great leaders understand that leading others means serving others.  The one question leaders must ask themselves: are you interested in finding solutions for today’s challenges? Then learn to work with others to benefit those you serve, without worrying about who gets credit.  It is a hard lesson to learn for some.  The sun will still come up, even if you don’t get the recognition.


JC Bowman is the Executive Director of Professional Educators of Tennessee, a non-partisan teacher association headquartered in Nashville, Tennessee. Permission to reprint in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided that the author and the association are properly cited. For more information on this subject or any education issue please contact Professional Educators of Tennessee.