Take the lead, take the money

Mike Antonucci's Education Intelligence Agency is the best teachers union watchdog on the web. I learn something new, interesting, and humorous with every visit to his site and every e-mail "EIA Communiqué."

Antonucci recently reported on the Washington Education Association's new well-funded public relations campaign for more education funding, which sounds eerily like Education Minnesota's new well-funded public relations campaign for more education funding:
Take the Lead, and the Money. Next week the Washington Education Association (WEA) will launch its latest public relations campaign for more education funding with a member mailing. The campaign will feature the slogan "Take the lead. Restoring Washington's Commitment to Great Public Schools."

WEA distributed its rationale for the rather pedestrian campaign name. I've posted it as an Acrobat file, and was fascinated by the description of it as a "multi-year effort," that included member focus groups and polling. The result, WEA believes, is believable, aspirational, factual, empowering, positive, solution-oriented, etc.

In fact, the slogan does accomplish the most important thing: it doesn't mention money. EIA has also posted the union's talking points as an Acrobat file. They make it clear that "commitment" means money, and only money. But a media campaign with the slogan "We want more of your money!" isn't likely to have the desired effect.

(For more, see the Education Intelligence Agency and drill down to the January 30, 2006 "EIA Communiqué.")

Public relations campaigns like this (and follow-on lobbying at state legislatures and Congress) will become increasingly sophisticated and persuasive. According to the EIA, the "underpaid and unappreciated" National Education Association union member accounted for over 15% of all union members in 2004 (the latest data publicly available). In Minnesota, where the NEA and AFT affiliates merged into a 73,000 dues-paying member organization, the percentage was 17%.

Meanwhile, parents and taxpayers are pretty much on their own when it comes to lobbying. When evaluating the merits of these P.R. campaigns, legislators and voters should recall the candid remarks of Albert Shanker, American Federation of Teachers President (1974-1997): "When school children start paying union dues, that's when I'll start representing the interests of school children."