Why Did a Liberal Teachers’ Union Honor This GOP Senator?

Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) (photo credit: AMSF2011 via Flickr, CC BY 2.0)
Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) (photo credit: AMSF2011 via Flickr, CC BY 2.0)

Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) must be very proud. Along with Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), he has received the National Education Association (NEA)’s “highest honor,” the Friend of Education award. The NEA bestowed this award for Alexander’s “bold leadership” in passing the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) as a replacement for No Child Left Behind. Previous award-winners include well-known conservatives Lyndon Johnson, Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, Ted Kennedy, Linda Darling-Hammond, and Nancy Pelosi.

As one of the two major teachers’ unions in the U.S., the NEA has a much-deserved reputation for lavishly funding liberal candidates and causes. George Will has noted that in the 2014 elections, the union was the nation’s third-largest spender, almost exclusively supporting Democratic candidates. In connection with its recent national convention, the NEA announced its intention to fund LGBT initiatives, including support of President Obama’s radical transgender guidance for schools, and to oppose state religious liberty statutes (how children’s education is improved if their and their parents’ religious liberty is curtailed is not clear). And it goes without saying that despite complaining about the “poor implementation” of the Common Core national standards, NEA remains a proponent of that centralization scheme.

Conservative teachers have long resented the NEA’s confiscating their dues money, against their will, and using it to advance causes with which they disagree. A legal challenge to this practice fell victim to the absence of Justice Scalia when the Supreme Court deadlocked 4-4 on whether such compelled speech violated the plaintiff teachers’ First Amendment rights.

That such an organization would bestow its highest honor on Alexander tells us a couple of things. First is that Alexander was, shall we say, mistaken when he assured concerned citizens that ESSA was a conservative bill that would return education autonomy to the states. Arne Duncan crowed after passage that he and his henchmen cooperated with the Republican pushers of the bill (presumably including Alexander) to make sure Republican members of Congress voted for a legislation that in fact gave the U.S. Department of Education just about everything it wanted. The NEA’s decision to fete Alexander for his complicity would seem to confirm Duncan’s evaluation.

The second is that Alexander is fairly shameless about advertising his allegiance to the education establishment, which has been so detrimental to true education in this country and of which the NEA is a prominent part. A conservative senator would have declined the award (not that it would have been offered to him) and then begun some soul-searching to determine what he did wrong to provoke praise from such an outfit. But Alexander was happy to show up and bask in the applause.

If this doesn’t prove to clueless congressional Republicans that Lamar Alexander will lead them down the wrong path on education issues, what will?

Jane Robbins is an attorney and a senior fellow with the American Principles Project.