August is teacher opt out time: know your rights as an Illinois public school employee
Educators and other public school employees in Illinois can opt out of union membership in August and stop paying dues.
August is back-to-school month for educators and other staff members in Illinois public schools. It is also typically the “opt-out window” for public school employees to leave their unions and stop paying dues.
Public school employees pay hundreds of dollars each year in union dues. Most of that money doesn’t stay with the local affiliate. Instead, it flows up the chain to the state and national affiliates, which admit spending very little on representing members.
Opting out means employees can keep more money in their paycheck and stop sending money to unions that spend little on representing their needs.
But most teachers unions limit the time to opt out – and stop paying dues – to the month of August.
Here’s how Illinois teachers unions stacked up in 2022
The Illinois Education Association and National Education Association together spent less than 8 cents of every $1 on representing teachers in 2022, according to a report filed with the U.S. Department of Labor. The rest was on politics, overhead and other union leadership priorities.
Meanwhile, IEA and NEA spent a total of over $43 million on political activities and lobbying. NEA spent more on politics than representing teachers, which is the main purpose of a labor union.
The Illinois Federation of Teachers and American Federation of Teachers together spent less than 33 cents of every $1 on representing teachers.
Meanwhile, IFT and AFT’s political spending exceeded $36 million. Despite representing teachers from across Illinois – from Chicago to Quincy, East St. Louis to Peoria – IFT and AFT funneled nearly $2.6 million into Chicago Mayor Brandon Johnson’s campaign during the 2023 election.
Illinois educators and other school employees can leave the union
Educators and other public school employees don’t have to stay in the union. They have choices:
- Public school employees can get liability insurance and legal protection elsewhere. They can join other associations, such as the Association of American Educators. AAE, which has 29,000 members across the country, provides liability insurance and legal protection to public school employees – typically at a fraction of the cost of union membership.
- Public school employees can opt out of union membership and keep all employer-provided benefits. By opting out of union membership, an employee stops paying dues to the union yet retains all benefits provided in the collective bargaining agreement with the school district.
Opting out doesn’t mean educators don’t support their local bargaining unit. In fact, educators are free to send voluntary donations to their local bargaining units without being members – thereby helping to ensure their support stays local.