Teachers unions spent big on the midterm elections and lost big -- dropping as much as $80 million on mostly Democratic candidates.
The National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers spent their members' dues to support labor-friendly candidates in states like Wisconsin, Michigan and North Carolina, only to see Republicans win handily. Some critics say not only did they get little bang for their bucks, they may have further alienated members who don't share the organizations' politics.
The National Education Association spent $40 million on ads in various Senate and gubernatorial races. In Michigan, the NEA spent $200,000 in a bid to unseat Gov. Rick Snyder, according to Education Week. In Florida, the AFT spent $500,000 supporting Democratic candidate Charlie Crist's unsuccessful effort to unseat Gov. Rick Scott. And in Wisconsin, the teachers union campaigned hard against Gov. Scott Walker, who has now won three campaigns in four years, including a recall effort led by public-sector unions.
“We're doubling down on gubernatorial and down-ballot races this year," Randi Weingarten, president of the AFT, said last month as Election Day was approaching. "What's happening in communities across the country is what's driving this election. We know these races need a lot more of our focus."
Kevin Chavous, executive counsel for the American Federation for Children, said unions can't use the brute force of campaign funds to press their agenda if it is seen as adversarial to education reform.
“I think this whole idea of unions muscling their way into the political forum is turning,” said Chavous. “What we are seeing is that people are concerned about the educational system and, frankly, the union’s tactics are becoming a thing of the past.
“They invested millions and millions of dollars in states where educational choice was in the forefront,” he added.
Chavous pointed out that candidates who went against school choice and voucher programs turned off voters in states like Wisconsin, North Carolina, Alabama, Georgia, Florida and Michigan while pro-reform candidates fared well.
The NEA, through its Advocacy Fund, donated nearly $3 million to the Democratic Governors Association to affect contests in states where Republican governors cut back on collective bargaining or education aid. NEA officials did not respond to requests for comment.
Experts say that no matter how much was spent by the unions, the voters spoke out on Election Day.
“The unions have had difficulties for the last few elections, not just this one,” Vincent Vernuccio, director of labor policy at Michigan-based Mackinac Center, told FoxNews.com. “The voters are siding with taxpayers and the workers. The success of these governors and legislators was just not on the Republican side. This [election] was less of a referendum and more of a reaffirmation. Unions are going to have to adapt.”
“We hope that these unions realize that their primary responsibility is to represent the workers and stop with intimidation tactics,” he added.