Limited Taxation & Government


"For the Children"
Education Project

The Alexis de Tocqueville Institution

The following is a response from National Education Association President Bob Chase, a reaction to the Alexis de Tocqueville Institution's scrutiny of the NEA. Read Jack Kemp's and Tocqueville Institution director Gregory Fossedall's responses to the NEA's attack.                          

April 9, 1998 The Honorable Jack Kemp 
Empower America 
1776 I Street, NW 
Suite 800 
Washington, D.C. 20006 

Dear Secretary Kemp: 

It is well-known that you are a strong supporter of private school tuition vouchers.  Nonetheless, I am shocked and appalled that you would lend your support to an organization that is dedicated to undermining the effectiveness of the National Education Association in its ability to advocate for the interests of children and public education. 

As a national co-chairman, with Senator Joseph Lieberman, of the Alexis deTocqueville Institution, you have lent your name and credibility to a letter that was recently distributed to a number of NEA members around the country.  The letter is a patchwork of falsehoods and distortions arguing against the proposed unification of the NEA with the American Federation of Teachers.  I find it disturbing that you appear to oppose this unification, since it is intended to enhance our ability to address some of the most challenging issues affecting the future of public education and the United States itself. 

Over the past few months, the NEA/AFT Joint Council has been working on substantive efforts to address school safety, school modernization, and teacher quality.  A unified organization would be better able to expand these efforts–and meet other pressing needs in America's schools and communities. 

I must assume, from your support of the deTocqueville Institution, that you subscribe to the idea they have been trying to promote that there should be a panoply of teachers' unions–the more the better.  I fail to see how that will improve things for children and education, but I would welcome your explanation. 

The deTocqueville Institution works closely with the Center for the Study of Popular Culture, which supports Myron Lieberman's life work–trashing NEA and AFT. In addition, they work closely with the Institute of Justice, Clint Bolick's organization that is pursuing a litigation strategy in favor of vouchers.  And they work with the National Right to Work Foundation, the nation's largest anti-union organization.  In February 1997, deTocqueville hosted a forum on Capitol Hill with many of NEA's fiercest critics, including the National Right to Work Foundation, the Evergreen Freedom Foundation of Washington state, and a number of "alternative" teacher organizations, including the American Association of Educators.  All of these groups are dedicated to the destruction of NEA. 

I was a classroom teacher in Connecticut for 25 years.  I have always had the interests of children foremost in my mind.  As you well know, I have worked in recent years to help change the direction of NEA–to move toward more partnerships with parents and school administrators, to take risks and bring about the kind of changes schools need and parents want, and to use the Association's advocacy tools to bring about the kinds of school transformation necessary to meet the challenges of the next century. 

I am an elected representative–whose salary, benefits, and activities are the subject of close scrutiny by those who elect me.  My salary is a matter of public record, published in a budget voted on by 10,000 delegates to our annual Representative Assembly.  The deTocqueville letter cites my "total compensation" as $301,302.  That number is equivalent to taking your total salary, retirement, health care, and travel budget as your "total compensation." In fact, my salary is $185,000. The rest of the amount includes expenses for travel, lodging, and everything else.  As you know, keeping in touch with the members of our organization is a demanding pace.  I spend about 60 percent of my time on the road, talking with members, visiting schools, and talking with leaders in every walk of life urging change and improvement in America's public schools. That salary, as you know, is in the mid-range for leaders in comparable organizations, unions, businesses, membership organizations, etc. 

In a similar way, the deTocqueville letter inflates the number of staff employed by NEA and AFT, as well as their salaries.  It raises a number of irrelevancies, such as my travel to foreign countries at the invitation of my sister unions and my participation in a conference in California at Palm Springs Riviera.  My business travel is not, as the letter suggests, luxury vacations at the members' expense, but the challenging struggle to promote new ideas, build community support for educational change and improvement, and inspire our members to stay active in efforts for children and public education.  The Palm Springs meeting was a working conference hosted by the United Teachers of Los Angeles–not a vacation. 

The grossest distortion in the letter your group sent to our members was the notion that the unification of NEA and AFT would not be good for members.  There is no basis for the letter's claim that the new union would be more concerned with politics than classrooms.  Every decision affecting what happens in America's public schools is a political decision, made by elected or appointed officials at the local, state, and national level.  Only those interested in making education a partisan issue and those interested in undermining the effectiveness of teachers' Associations try to make this distinction between collective bargaining and legislative and political advocacy.  This false premise illustrates one of the links between deTocqueville and the National Right to Work Committee. Since the Right to Work people press on with the legal argument that only collective bargaining expenses are a legitimate part of agency fees, deTocqueville and its allies press with the political argument that the only appropriate role for a union is to engage in collective bargaining. 

I do not believe it is up to the deTocqueville Institution, the Right to Work Committee, or Myron Lieberman to dictate to us what is the appropriate role for our Association. Our members tell us we should continue efforts to be effective advocates for children and public education in every arena where decisions affecting them are made.  I'm sure you would agree it is absurd to tell a union's members that its organization should focus in only on bargaining for salaries and benefits only (pushing us into the old union mold) and then criticize us for being too hard line.  Equally absurd is the notion that we should bargain at the local level–and not attempt to influence those who set the budgets at the county, state, and national levels.  Your endorsement of this organization seems to imply that you agree that teachers should not recommend candidates who support children and public education.  If so, I would like to know. 

I have not asked for an independent analysis of the figures former Senator Bob Kasten uses in his letter about the increases in education spending and teacher pay.  However, such a simplistic analysis wholly ignores the significant changes that have taken place in the public schools over the past four decades.  In 1959, there were very few special education programs, few efforts to assist disadvantaged students or students with limited proficiency in English.  In 1959, we educated a much smaller proportion of the eligible population, the high school dropout rate was much higher, and there were fewer choices for students and parents.  For example, there were no magnet schools, no alternative schools, and no advanced placement courses. 

In the end, the deTocqueville letter you endorse, and the activities they pursue, constitute a blatant counterorganizing attempt.  Of the 22 articles posted on the deTocqueville's web page, purported to be articles on education reform, two lambaste the U.S. Department of Education, five talk about private school tuition, and the other 15 articles are attacks on unions in some form or another.  One is left with the impression that the most significant education "reform" is to defeat, dismantle, or harass unions. Is that your philosophy? If you lend your support to an organization that spends less than one-fourth of the time promoting vouchers and three-fourths of the time blasting unions, which appears to be most important for you? 

Despite our disagreement about private school tuition vouchers, I continue to believe that there are many areas where NEA would like to work with you.  We all remember and appreciate the fact that you were the only candidate for the Republican Presidential candidate nomination who agreed to talk face-to-face to with Mary Hatwood Futrell when she was NEA President in 1988. And yet, as the deTocqueville attacks become sharper (and more ludicrous), your support for them becomes increasingly difficult for us to explain away.  I would like the opportunity to sit down and discuss these issues with you at your convenience. 


Bob Chase 


Kemp and Institution Respond


Return to Education Project