Teachers Unions in Debt

Article excerpt

The largest affiliates of the United States' largest teachers union are deeply in debt, largely because they have lavish pension and health-care systems, according to the Education Intelligence Agency. These bloated benefits arrangements are the same kind unions pressured states into creating for other state workers, pushing states into further fiscal disarray.

A new Thomas B. Fordham Institute report detailing teachers unions' strength by state shows some of these union giants are in huge financial trouble.

The Pennsylvania State Education Association ranks fourth most powerful on Fordham's metrics but it has only enough money to cover 37 days of operation, according to 2010-11 EIA figures, the latest available. The New Jersey Education Association ranks seventh but it owes $38.7 million more than it has on hand.

The Illinois Education Association, ranked eighth, has enough reserves for two days of operation. Ninth-ranked New York State United Teachers owes an astonishing $201 million. And the Washington Education Association ranks 10th, but owes $18.6 million more than it has available. Ohio and West Virginia, numbers 12 and 13, owe $14.4 million and $2.3 million, respectively. No. 16 Michigan owes a breathtaking $113 million.

Of the 10 largest state unions, nine face serious debt and deficits, and they have shifted pensions, benefits and workers to alleviate the pressure.

The National Education Association, these unions' parent organization and the largest U.S. teachers union, lost 6.2 percent of its membership in the past three years. It had nearly 2 million members in 2010 but expects to have 1.62 million in 2013.

People who watch state politics and education policy know teachers unions are often the biggest single influence on both. As this November's ballot initiatives attested, their influence is not limited to education -- which accounts for a third to half of most states' spending. Their members constitute the bulk of state employees and therefore work to increase taxes, spending and government power in general. …