History of the Association
163 Years of Advocacy
Founded in 1845, the National Education Association Rhode Island - formerly the Rhode Island Education Association, and first known as Rhode Island Institute of Instruction - is the oldest and largest professional non-profit education organization in continuous service to Rhode Islanders.
Among the accomplishments of the Institute was the advocacy of the Rhode Island Normal School (Rhode Island College). The Institute encouraged town and district libraries, the introduction of music into the public schools, the establishing of a State Board of Education, and the opening of evening schools in manufacturing villages.
In 1859, teachers began to question the leadership of the Institute, since it was controlled by businessmen, doctors, and ministers. Teachers said, "We want an association of teachers, managed by teachers."
At the 16th annual meeting, in 1860, it became that association. Today, teachers, educational employees and public employees all share in the elected leadership of NEARI.
Collective Bargaining Begins
In 1966, the enactment of the School Teachers' Arbitration Act - or Michaelson Act - gave teachers the right to negotiate with their school committees, and obligated school committees to negotiate with their teachers. An act allowing other school employees to bargain contracts soon followed.
This marked the beginning of a new era, and a new Association role as a labor organization.
As labor relations became more sophisticated, the Association staff grew. All areas of educational employees became eligible for membership, including higher education faculty and staffs, teacher aides and clerical employees, and custodial and maintenance workers, along with public employees outside the education field.
The scope of the state and national organizations grew as well. Programs for legal assistance, instructional development, leadership training, legislative and political action, public relations, research, and consumer product packages were added to Association services.
Improvement of education and protection and defense of members' rights has remained of foremost importance, however. NEA and NEA RI have fought long and hard in many arenas to pursue the quality of public education that is a reality today.