September 23, 2023

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Organization Offers Alternative to Teachers’ Unions

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The Kansas Association of American Educators (KANAAE) offers to professional educators an alternative to joining a teacher’s union. Though KANAAE doesn’t negotiate salaries and benefits on behalf of its members, the organization focuses on student achievement without jumping into partisan politics while offering its members professional benefits.

“We don’t go into a school district and try to organize teachers to collectively bargain,” says Garry Sigle, the organization’s executive director.

KANAAE‘s website calls the organization a “statewide non-union, professional educators’ organization.” Sigle says it represents teachers as professionals and promotes collaboration, professionalism, and educational advocacy without a partisan agenda.

The Kansas Association of American Educators (KANAAE) offers to professional educators an alternative to joining a teacher’s union.

KANAAE is a bottom-up organization, according to Sigle.

“We survey our members to find out what they think, and then we take positions on what our members think,” he explains.

Kansas is a right to work state, which means teachers aren’t forced to contribute portions of the paychecks to union membership dues. However, many educators appreciate the legal and liability protection that come with union membership. Public school teacher contracts are negotiated between school boards and a union or other bargaining agent, but teachers don’t have to join the Kansas National Education Association (KNEA) or the American Federation of Teachers of Kansas (AFT-KS), the two largest teacher’s unions in the state.

Sigle says, the cost to join KANAAE is significantly less than the cost of joining the union. KANAAE membership costs $198 per year compared to over $600 annually for labor union membership.

“That is a reason why a lot of educators choose to belong to a professional association,” Sigle explains. KANAAE offers legal expertise and assistance if something should happen in a the classroom.

“There are lots of different scenarios that could cause a member to want to contact us for legal liability,” Sigle says. “Let’s say a child got hurt on the playground while I’m supervising and a parent thought supervision wasn’t adequate.”

KANAAE membership dues help educators protect and defend themselves from such accusations.

“The main thing our teachers want is legal and liability coverage, and we provide that as part of our membership dues. We provide that without being partisan,” Sigle says.

KANAAE membership dues aren’t used to endorse or advance any political candidates. According to KNEA’s website, its dues aren’t spent on political campaigns either. However, KNEA accepts voluntary contributions to its political action committees, Kansas Political Action Committee and the NEA’s Fund for Children and Public Education. According to its website, the union PACs support “candidates who support public schools and the protection of children.” The NEA Fund for Children and Public Education, a national PAC, spent almost $4 million in the 2016 election cycle. Of its donations to candidates, the PAC gave 89 percent to Democratic candidates including $2,000 to Jay Sidie’s campaign against Congressman Kevin Yoder, and $5,000 to Chad Taylor. Taylor, a Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate, requested to have his name removed from the ballot in 2016. Incumbents Yoder and Sen. Pat Roberts won.

Sigle says KANAAE doesn’t donate to campaigns.

“We don’t spend any money on promoting political candidates,” Sigle says. “I’m not a lobbyist, and I don’t spend a great deal of time in Topeka during the session. But a lot of legislators know who we are and want to know what we have to say.”

KANAAE is chapter of the Association of American Educators. It was founded in 1994 in California and now boasts members in all 50 states.

A former teacher and coach in the Riley County School District, Sigle helped teachers in his district disentangle from KNEA in 2008 and 2009. At the time, there were 56 teachers, or certified staff, in the Riley County School District. Only 13 belonged to the NEA. No one on the union negotiation team taught at the high school.

“There were a group of us that didn’t feel like the minority of teachers should be ruling the majority,” Sigle recalls. “The number of NEA members kept going down every year and there was concern that the number of teachers who could negotiate kept going down.”

The teachers went through the process of decertification. In 2009, the teachers ended their affiliation with the state’s largest teacher’s union by a vote of 30-20. Now, local teachers do their own negotiating. About 12 other Kansas districts have followed suit. Most recently, the Rock Creek School District decertified in January 2017.

“It continues to be a trend,” Sigle says.

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