Michael Tavoliero: NEA’s grip on politics and classrooms is what’s in the way of a high-quality education in Alaska

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By MICHAEL TAVOLIERO

National Education Association-Alaska, the Alaska education industry’s union, stands as the foremost advocate for its members’ rights and interests. Its membership includes educators and other school employees.

However, a critical constitutional conflict exists between this union and the State of Alaska concerning constitutionally prohibited sectarian control over the state’s education system.

While NEA-Alaska’s mission and vision statements ostensibly prioritize public education and the welfare of public-school employees, aligning with its role as a teachers’ union, they also reveal a distinct ideological stance lobbying its current control over Alaska’s public education system over alternative models such as private or charter schools and the state’s correspondence and home school programs. NEA-Alaska also aggressively lobbies its distinct ideological stance controlling budget and performance outcomes for the state and local school districts. 

The union’s vision statement boldly highlights its sway in state and local politics, endorsing candidates and influencing policy decisions. While political engagement might be expected of a union, it is not in itself a “political party” nor is it held to the same standards.

The extent to which NEA-Alaska aggressively shapes political outcomes underscores a concerted ideological agenda aimed at advancing specific educational policies and funding priorities to maintain hegemony and authority.

Furthermore, the vision espoused by NEA-Alaska accentuates the collective might of its members and its consequential impact on working conditions, instructional quality, and student outcomes. While empowering educators is a legitimate objective, the fervent pursuit of attaining the “best instructional conditions in the nation” and securing the “highest compensation packages” reflects a broader ideological ambition to reshape the educational landscape according to its own specific values and priorities.

This vision also outlines specific policies and practices, such as class size limits and curriculum development expectations, which, while potentially beneficial, are presented as components of a larger ideological agenda that favors certain educational approaches over others.

In essence, NEA-Alaska assumes the role of arbiter, determining winners and losers within Alaska’s educational system.

However, the Alaska State Constitution unequivocally asserts in Article VII, Section 1, that “Schools and institutions so established shall be free from sectarian control.”

But what precisely constitutes sectarian control?

According to the original constitutional delegates, led by R. Rolland Armstrong, the term encompasses any form of ideological control or influence that could compromise the neutrality and effectiveness of public education. It is imperative to ensure that public schools remain free from the sway of any particular religious or ideological group.

The debate surrounding the wording of the Enabling Act aimed to safeguard public education from undue influence. While proponents argued for including the term “or indirect” to prevent unintended support to religious or private institutions, opponents cautioned against overly restrictive interpretations that hinder providing services to all children for the public good.

Ultimately, the discussion highlighted the delicate balance between preserving the neutrality and integrity of public education while respecting individual rights and freedoms. The overarching objective was to establish a system prioritizing the educational needs of children while safeguarding against undue influence from any ideological or religious faction.

Constitutional delegate John Coghill’s failed attempt to include the “or indirect” language underscores this contention. His defense emphasized that public education is a state function and should not be encroached upon by any particular group, whether in the minority or the majority.

Thus, when considering sectarian control in the context of public education, it is crucial to recognize that it transcends religious influence to encompass any attempt to impose a specific ideology or agenda onto the education system.

In this debate, the concern extended beyond religious organizations exerting control over public schools to encompass any entity seeking to impose its ideological agenda. This could include political groups, special interest organizations, or any faction with a particular agenda, which maintained continuous control as NEA-Alaska has since the 1960’s.

The emphasis on maintaining public schools free from sectarian control arises from the imperative to preserve neutrality and impartiality in education. Allowing any single group to dictate curriculum or policies has marginalized certain students and stifled open discourse within schools, undermining the fundamental principles of democracy.

Therefore, the term “sectarian control” encompasses any effort to impose a specific ideology onto the public education system, regardless of its origin, be it religious or non-religious.

Conflicts between NEA-Alaska and the State of Alaska invariably stem from differing priorities, perspectives, and interests regarding educational governance, funding, and policies. These conflicts have been ongoing in ideological principles as highlighted by NEA-Alaska’s own website. Finding common ground necessitates constructive dialogue and collaboration to ensure that the educational needs of students prevail over ideological agendas or special interests, this however has not been the history of NEA-Alaska.

In conclusion, the influence wielded by NEA-Alaska raises grave constitutional concerns regarding sectarian control over Alaska’s education system. While the union champions the rights of educators, its extensive political involvement and ideological agenda pose a direct constitutional threat to the state’s mandate of ensuring neutrality and impartiality in public education through Article VII, Section 1 of Alaska’s Constitution.

Resolving this conflict demands a steadfast commitment to preserving the integrity and efficacy of Alaska’s public education system, safeguarding it from any influence or control that may compromise its mission of providing high-quality education for all students.

Michael Tavoliero writes for Must Read Alaska.

17 COMMENTS

  1. First error: Allowing the government to take over the school system.
    Second error: Allowing school employees to unionize.

  2. Agree. The NEA should have nothing to do concerning issues with children and parents. Only teachers salaries, benefits.

  3. The latest flier in our mailbox advocating a vote against Mayor Bronson indicated that NEA-Juneau was among the top three financial contributors to the mailing, along with a man from Texas.

    I wonder what NEA-Juneau has against Bronson?

    • He’s conservative.
      He will likely question the school budget.
      He will likely demand the schools actually educate the children.
      He will likely prevent the schools from pushing whatever whacko leftist ideology is popular this week. (How come no one told me it was antisemitism season already? I still have my transgender decorations up.)

  4. Come on parents, wake up and do what’s right for your kids take the power and money away from the educators and back to the people.

  5. Mostly, but not entirely.

    A fair amount of blame goes to the vast majority of parents who never thought twice about what goes on at their kids schools. Even less about the school board candidates.

    Covid exposed the education industrial complex for what it is, but in so many ways it’s like slowing down the Titanic after it hit the iceberg.

    This crapfest could not have happened if parents, by design or neglect, didn’t let it happen.

      • OTOH, the closer you put control of education $$$ to the students, the better education they get. Vouchers are the solution, which is why the AEA / NEA / democrats and the state judiciary are all aligned against them. Cheers –

      • My father supported and joined the NEA when he found himself in the role of sometimes babysitter, fussed at if the house wasn’t sparkling when the parents got home, reiterating the issue of increasing expectations without commensurate remuneration, and respect.

        Why would there be so much froufrou if the teachers weren’t recognized for their immense value to a society?

        • Real teachers are essential to a society. We don’t have a functionsl education system, and the NEA-Alaska is a large part of the problem. They leach off the resources that belong to our youth, while kneecapping students by failing to provide a quality education. What passes for standards in Alaska public schools are below many 3rd world countries.

  6. I agree- As a former teacher and graduate of the Alaska education system before it was ruled by the evil Powers. Society today is underserved by the education that students receive. NEA has become the dictator of what your kids are learning. And as you can tell by the news today, this education system is failing America. People have lazily turned their kid’s success to the political morons who tell them that they know better. The plugged in and tuned out parents of today have disengaged their responsibilities and handed them over to D.C.
    I highly recommend looking at the schools and ask them are they teaching or are they educating? If you have a teacher=success. If you have an educator=part of the system.
    Kids today don’t know how to learn from their failures and mistakes. They are told they can just reboot and start again with no consequences. Thats wrong and our liberty is in jeopardy because of these lazy maggots.

  7. NEA is hellbent on destroying the virtues that made America a great country and an economic powerhouse. These are radical lefties who are defacing the family as the last line of defense for our children. LGBTQ, BLM, Climate Action, cancel culture, etc ……the new “three R’s” in public education.
    Sick b*stards.

  8. Interesting little international news feed this morning: 23,000 students in Hanoi failed their 10th grade exams. The district fired 7,000 teachers in response. No wonder US kids fall further behind every year.

  9. It is no surprise that Alaska’s failing public schools trend with the rise in NEA influence over school policy. The NEA needs to be reined in and stay in their lane which is employee working conditions & benefits.

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