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Reports from the NEA Convention

WASHINGTON, D.C. July 3, 3008 The California delegation to the National Education Association Representative Assembly (NEA RA) has just voted to neither support or oppose the NEA Board of Directors recommended bylaw amendment to make persons employed in private sector preschool programs eligible for active NEA membership. The delegation reaffirmed its opposition to a companion amendment that would make private sector elementary and secondary school employees eligible for NEA membership.

Opponents of the amendment argue that it would be a departure from NEA's stated mission of "Great Public Schools for Every Child" and, as such, encourage further encroachment of the private sector into public education. But supporters say that AFT and other unions are already organizing private preschool employees, and fear an erosion of NEA's strength (and dues base).

San Diego Education Association president Camille Zombro argued that "We need to organize private preschool employees in order to protect the wages and working conditions of our members who work in public preschools". Zombro noted that lack of unionization is a major factor in the proliferation of charter schools in San Diego County (where 10% of all students are now in charter schools), and said that just as organization of charter schools is necessary to protect teachers and students, the same holds for private preschools (which, like charter schools, are growing rapidly). United Educators of San Francisco president Dennis Kelly noted that AFT and SEIU are already organizing private preschool employees in California, so the question isn't whether they'll be organized but rather what union will organize them and which union will offer them the best protection.

Clearly, the sizeable sentiment in favor of organizing private preschools among the large urban locals in California reflects the impact and fear induced by the privatization agenda generally and charter schools specifically. There will likely be considerable debate and division on this question when it comes up on the RA floor, and we will continue to follow developments closely.

Jack Gerson is a delegate to the NEA RA from Oakland, California, and writes regularly about education for Substance and other publications.



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