Big changes to the NJEA website. Normally, Sunlight and most others would not pay much attention to changes in a website, but the change to the NJEA’s website is dramatic – a veritable 180 – and seems to reflect a change in how the NJEA wants to be perceived, especially by teachers. Whether it portends a substantive change in how the NJEA operates remains to be seen.
As Sunlight readers well know, we have been hammering the NJEA about being a “political machine.” We have detailed how since 2013, the political operatives have taken over the Executive Office, and how teachers’ highest-in-the-nation dues are funding increased political spending and lavish executive compensation. Perhaps Sunlight’s facts have resonated.
1. Gone is the Overtly Political Tone. Gone from the “About” section is the Mission Statement that read:
“The mission of the New Jersey Education Association is to advance and protect the rights, benefits and interests of members …” – listed first, all of which are political goals, followed by – “… and promote a quality system of public education for all students.”
Gone is the old backdrop for the Mission Statement, which was a large photograph of a political protest in front of the statehouse in Trenton with hundreds of red-shirted NJEA members (part of the old #RedForEd political campaign). This provided an unmistakable political overtone for the words of the Mission Statement.
Now the “About” section is all about the students:
“The New Jersey Education Association (NJEA) puts our commitment to students and public school employees first. Since 2019, Education Week has named New Jersey’s public schools as the best in the nation, an accolade that was echoed by U.S. News & World Report. Our members work hard to ensure that every child has access to an excellent public school that cares for their academic, social, emotional, and physical well-being.”
Now the picture on the homepage is of young students with a teacher, providing an unmistakable student-focused overtone.
2. New Justification for Teachers’ Highest-in-the-Nation Dues. Sunlight also hammered the NJEA on teachers’ $1,500 in total dues paying for political spending and lavish executive compensation. Now the first item on the home page is “What Union Membership Does for You.” In the “Membership” section on the “About” page, there is a new subsection “What do I get for my dues?,” which leads with:
“NJEA understands our members want to get the most from their dues. That is why we work to provide you with the best member services in the nation. Here is an overview of how your dues dollars go to work for you.”
With membership down 1% since 2017, and NJEA dues growing to $999 a year, it sure looks like the NJEA feels like it has to convince teachers that the NJEA is looking out for them.
But the real question is whether the NJEA’s website changes are just optics. If the Murphy re-election campaign is any indication, it looks like there has been very little substantive change: in a piece by Charlie Stile today, we learn that the NJEA now has cutting-edge, QR-coded get-out-the-vote pamphlets, which suggests a continued commitment to politics. And of course we know the NJEA has pumped at least $15.5 million into getting Murphy re-elected. Same-old, same-old.
Given the NJEA leadership’s past record on political spending, there is little reason to expect that there has been any fundamental change in their modus operandi. Unless and until the public sees a measurable down-shift in political activity, we should assume that the NJEA will remain New Jersey’s taxpayer-funded political machine – just with a kinder and gentler website.