Nation's Largest Teachers' Union Bankrolls Fight to Kill School Choice in Nebraska

Teachers' unions have ramped up left-wing political spending in recent years

An empty elementary school / Getty Images
July 27, 2023

The nation’s largest teachers’ union is spending big to end Nebraska’s first-ever school choice program for K-12 students, financial disclosures reviewed by the Washington Free Beacon show.

Nonprofit group Support Our Schools Nebraska, which wants to force a referendum to terminate the state’s new school choice program, received $800,000 from the National Education Association, according to disclosures. That amounts to roughly 80 percent of the group’s total funds. The union's state-level affiliate, meanwhile, sent Support Our Schools Nebraska another $60,000, and a local union leader and National Education Association member serves as the nonprofit's leader.

The association's campaign to kill school choice reflects the general increase in political spending from teachers' unions in recent years—spending that almost exclusively goes to Democrats and liberal causes. The National Education Association in 2021 spent more than twice as much on political activities and lobbying than it did on member representation, the Government Accountability Institute found. In the 2020 election cycle, 95 percent of the union's federal campaign contributions went to Democrats.

"This is who the NEA has always been," Parents Defending Education outreach director Erika Sanzi told the Free Beacon. For Sanzi, the association's political efforts "feel even more sinister" given that teachers' unions pushed to close schools and subsequently "wiped out decades of student progress and left so many students at risk of never catching up."

The National Education Association, which boasts more than three million members, did not return a request for comment.

Nebraska’s school choice program, the Opportunity Scholarships Act, sets aside $25 million per year in tax credits for individuals or entities that donate to nonprofit scholarship organizations. In turn, those organizations disburse the donations to low-income families to help them send their children to private schools. Support Our Schools Nebraska nonetheless argues the program will hurt public schools and low-income families while benefiting the rich, a charge that Nebraska's Republican governor, Jim Pillen, rejects.

"These scholarships will go to those students who need them most," Pillen wrote in a May column. "They will provide students the ability to attend a school they otherwise could never afford."

Nebraska's program specifically prioritizes families with a household income that does not exceed 100 percent of the federal poverty level. It also prioritizes special needs students, students in foster care, and students who come from military families.

Support Our Schools Nebraska is led by Tim Royers, president of the Millard Education Association, a local National Education Association affiliate. Royers is working to collect enough signatures from registered voters to force a referendum that would revoke the Opportunity Scholarships Act. Another group, Keep Kids First, is pushing back by organizing voters who support the policy.

"The teachers' union views opportunity scholarships as a threat to their control over the classroom, kids, parents, and the taxpayers," the group says on its website. "The teachers' union opposes the idea that low-income families should have the same opportunities when it comes to K-12 education as families that are well-off financially."