Powerful California Teachers’ Union Inflates Membership Numbers, Private Documents Show

Jul 9, 2024 | U.S. | 0 comments

California’s largest teachers’ union has tens of thousands fewer dues-paying members than it claims publicly, according to the group’s latest budget.

On its website and in press releases, the California Teachers Association boasts 310,000 educator members. But its budget breakdown for the upcoming school year, obtained by the Washington Free Beacon, reports just 266,755—some 43,000 fewer than the number publicized by the union. It’s also far fewer members than an independent analysis from 2020 that put the group’s estimated membership at just over 304,000.

The latest numbers show a disconnect between the membership numbers claimed by the union, the largest state affiliate of the National Education Association, and the reality.

The union did not respond to questions about the discrepancy. Experts say, however, that state labor groups, including the California Teachers Association, have generally seen attrition since the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2018 ruling that California’s public workers no longer have to pay dues to government unions as a condition for employment.

California Policy Center vice president of development Jackson Reese, who runs the think tank’s union opt-out campaigns, said he’s seeing a broader group of teachers shrugging off union membership. “Most people left first over political reasons,” Reese said. “This year, the reality is most opt-outs aren’t political, but personal. They think the unions spend their time and influence protecting bad teachers, not the good ones, that the unions create a culture of bullying and that too little of what they’re spending on dues is going to things that are valuable to them.”

He added that liability insurance is one of the top draws for staying in a union but that, since the Supreme Court’s 2018 decision, insurance companies are offering their own options as alternatives to the California Teachers Association.

“Unions tell teachers they are underpaid while raising membership fees, but at the end of the year people realize that the amount of money the union is taking out could be bettering their family,” Reese said.

The California Teachers Association lists its yearly membership fees at $816, which includes dues for the National Education Association. Teachers typically pay additional local union dues as well.

These fees have helped position the group as a powerhouse in California, where the teachers’ union consistently tops the list of biggest lobbying spenders. During this past legislative session alone, the union has already invested more than $2.85 million into lobbying, according to state disclosures.

Politically, the union leans heavily on progressive social justice causes, avowing support for “safe-haven schools and sanctuary cities” for illegal immigrants and pushing for schools to transition children to different genders behind parents’ back. The group has officially supported legislation for taxpayer-funded grants to illegal immigrant families and opposed a 2020 ballot measure to restore tougher penalties for theft and other crimes.

The union’s influence was on full display during Democratic governor Gavin Newsom’s pandemic lockdowns, when the association argued for keeping schools closed even as evidence mounted that classrooms were safe for students. Newsom almost immediately obliged, announcing that about 90 percent of California kids would be learning online in the 2020-2021 school year. California in the end closed down schools longer than any other state. The group also successfully pressured Newsom to delay lifting classroom mask mandates.

As the California Teachers Association’s membership declines, the Golden State is grappling with a continuous exodus from its public school system, although the state is investing record amounts of money—nearly $23,000 per student in the last budget year. Officials predict the state will lose more than half a million students by 2031, the nonpartisan Public Policy Institute of California reported, as students struggle with learning. Federal education test scores rank California as seventh-to-last in the nation; state testing from last year showed just one-third of students were proficient in math, while fewer than half met literacy standards.

So far, the union may not be able to blame its own decline on shrinking public schools. In Los Angeles, where the school district lost about 100,000 students in 2022, the number of teachers had increased 10 percent from 2018 to 2023—from 33,252 to more than 36,000. Meanwhile, membership in the local union, United Teachers Los Angeles, declined from 33,307 in January 2018 to 31,116 in January 2023, according to public records reviewed by the Free Beacon.

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California’s largest teachers’ union has tens of thousands fewer dues-paying members than it claims publicly, according to the group’s latest budget.
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