RALEIGH — North Carolina’s self-described teachers’ union still has clout with many Democratic lawmakers in the legislature, but its influence — and popularity — with teachers and everyday North Carolinians appears to be waning.
Over the past decade, the N.C. Association of Educators’ membership has dropped nearly 59%, and its revenue cut in half — from $11 million to $5.8 million. Among state affiliates of the National Education Association, only Montana and Nevada have had larger declines in membership. Today, the NCAE represents just 18% of public school teachers in the state.
Part of the reason is North Carolina parents and teachers are increasingly looking for alternatives to the NCAE and traditional public schools.
During the pandemic, enrollment in public schools dropped by 5%, or around 70,000 students, while the ranks of homeschoolers spiked by 20.6%, or around 30,000, students. Private school enrollment grew by 3,282, or a 3.3% increase, and charters saw a bump of 7.7%, or around 9,000 students.
“Over the last decade, North Carolina went from laggard to leader in parental choice,” noted Dr. Terry Stoops, director of the Center for Effective Education at the John Locke Foundation. “Simply put, North Carolina is a better place because its citizens embrace educational freedom.”
Meanwhile, a statewide campaign launched by the John Locke Foundation — publisher of The Carolina Journal — urges public school teachers to save $500 in dues each year by leaving the NCAE.
The billboards are present in high-population areas of the state, including the two largest school districts of Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools and Wake County Public Schools. The campaign includes a digital component at LeaveNCAE.com, in which teachers receive instructions on cutting ties with the NCAE.
“The John Locke Foundation embraces diversity of thought,” said Locke president Donald Bryson in a statement. “We are pro-teacher. We believe educators should have the freedom to affiliate as they see fit, and we believe the NCAE stopped representing the best interests of teachers and students long ago, in exchange for partisan gains.”
For teachers who choose to leave the union, there’s a new alternative in 2021: The Carolina Teachers Alliance.
“I’ve heard from so many teachers that the NCAE does not represent their values,” said Amy Marshall, a former public school teacher who launched Carolina Teachers Alliance earlier this year as a lower-cost alternative that doesn’t promote a progressive agenda.
Membership dues in the NCAE vary by school district and role but, for the 2021-22 school year, the organization was charging $586 a year for a full-time teacher in Wake County. Professional membership in Carolina Teachers Alliance is about half as much at $299.88 a year.
Marshall said membership in the Carolina Teachers Alliance has been steadily building since its official launch statewide in April. In addition to differentiating itself from the NCAE on price, the organization also parts ways on major policy issues: It supports school choice while prioritizing public school improvement, supports law enforcement, and advocates to keep public schools open and accessible during the pandemic.
Jennifer Balgooyen is an example of a teacher who opted to join the Carolina Teachers Alliance earlier this year because her values didn’t match those of the NCAE.
“There is a very concerning trend for how the NCAE is politicizing medicine and public health, plus how they’re bringing in a lot of topics that have no place in public schools,” said Balgooyen, who has taught in Wake County public schools for 14 years.
Mark Crowe is another public school employee from Cumberland County who joined the Carolina Teachers Alliance because he was tired of the politics from the NCAE.
“It’s more political than it is about the kids,” Crowe said. “I think it’s good when teachers can unite together, but some of the issues the NCAE has are so divisive, that’s why they’re losing membership.”