The billboards are part of an educational campaign that launched Aug. 6 — and will continue through September — by the Civitas Institute, a conservative think tank based in Raleigh, urging teachers and educational staff to opt out of their membership to the N.C. Association of Educators.
They claim there are benefits for teachers who discontinue their NCAE membership — including avoiding the $450 annual dues, said Bob Luebke, the institute’s senior policy analyst. The educators’ association, which provides professional liability insurance for teachers and advocates at the state level for issues related to teaching, declined to comment.
Luebke said the institute’s campaign is an extension of National Employee Freedom Week, which took place earlier this month.
“What we’re trying to do is let employees know that they have the freedom to opt out from any agency or union that they are a member of,” he said.
A website devoted to Civitas’ campaign argues that NCAE’s top executives earn an average of $180,231 — four times North Carolina public teachers’ average salary in 2012.
The campaign’s website estimates 75 percent or more of the NCAE’s political contributions go to one party. Luebke said many of the teachers he has spoken with are frustrated that most of the group’s support goes to the Democrats.
“The views of the membership are generally more diverse than that,” Luebke said. “There’s a lot of dissatisfaction often times with people who feel that they’re being compelled to support political candidates.”
William Hennessee, a teacher at Culbreth Middle School in Chapel Hill, said he believes the campaign focuses too much on politics rather than education reform.
Hennessee, who is going into his 29th year of teaching in the state, said he has been a member of the NCAE intermittently for 24 years.
“We know that (the NCAE) have been leaders in talking about the lack of transparency within the current policy makers over the last few years,” he said. “So, in their attempt to silence that association, what they’re basically doing is taking away the voice of the citizens of North Carolina.”
Luebke said Civitas plans to continue its campaign until the end of September, when teachers’ payrolls are finalized.
Christopher Hill, director of the education and law project at the N.C. Justice Center, said he believes the campaign is not helpful to students, teachers or education reform.
He said the center has partnered with the NCAE on previous projects, including a successful lawsuit brought against private school vouchers to low-income students.
“While we’re not in the middle of that fight, it’s not moving the dialogue on education policy,” Hill said. “We need to support our teachers to ensure that our students achieve in school.”