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GOP Educators: We'll Fight For Public Schools

By Emilie Openchowski

Thursday, July 23, 2009 — That the National Education Association is now hosting its third Republican Leaders Conference may drop some jaws, but then again, so might the fact that almost one million of the organization’s 3.2 million members identify themselves as Republicans.

Even Michael Steele, chairman of the Republican National Committee and the opening speaker for the conference yesterday, professed surprise that NEA had such a large conservative constituency.

“He was actually surprised—like everybody is—that there are Republican members of the NEA,” said Leslie Dake, a high school secretary from Sioux City, Iowa. “You could just tell, from the expression on his face!”

But Dake says that kind of response is pretty standard for her. She said even her principal was shocked that there were enough people to hold an entire conference.

“There was a joke last year,” at the conference, she said. “Somebody said they’re going to the NEA Republican Leader’s Conference, and the guy he was talking to said, ‘Well, couldn’t you hold that in a phone booth?’”

NEA’s conference is designed to engage its Republican members and equip them to advocate for public education. The conference includes workshops, networking opportunities, and lobbying visits to Republican lawmakers on Capitol Hill. That's where attendees will head today, lobbying for increased school funding and support from politicians.

“I believe in public education,” Payne said. “My values may not be the same as [NEA] relates to other issues, but I am very much a big supporter of public education…As it relates to public education, I don’t see why we can’t work together.”

Ken Mortland, a retired teacher in Bothell, Washington, couldn’t agree more. “I’m a Republican, I’m pro-public education,” he said. “I’ve never thought being a teacher and being a Republican had to be at odds with each other.”