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Name and title: Robert H. Chanin, general counsel Age: 73 Clout: The proclaimed mission of the National Education Association (NEA) is to promote and support quality public education, advocate for teachers and other school employees and push for human, civil and economic rights for all. The basic right of every child to attend a grade-A public school is a core belief. The NEA has played a political role in establishing compulsory schooling, child labor laws, women’s suffrage and the U.S. Department of Education. State pensions, the GI Bill of Rights and the Civil Rights Act also were influenced by the NEA. Gay rights, reproductive freedom, school vouchers and the No Child Left Behind Act are important concerns for the union. The NEA, chartered by Congress in 1857, claims a membership of 3.2 million teachers and faculty, support professionals, administrators, retired educators and collegians preparing to teach. The association is headquartered in Washington and has six regional offices. It is structured into 50 state-level affiliates and the Federal Education Association, which represents teachers in schools on military bases, along with 14,000 community affiliates. It is the nation’s largest union, and employs approximately 555 staff members. In the 2006-07 fiscal year it operated with a budget of $307 million. The rival American Federation of Teachers claims 1.4 million members. Legal team and outside counsel: Chanin heads the NEA’s office of general counsel, and is assisted by Deputy General Counsel Maurice Joseph and Assistant General Counsel Michael D. Simpson. Three other attorneys and a trio of secretaries round out the department. Matters of organizational governance and policy receive in-house attention. Washington’s Bredhoff & Kaiser does the vast majority of the farmed-out work, particularly in areas such as labor, constitutional law, employee defense and benefits. Other categories apt to go outside include litigation, federal election work, and patent and trademark matters. Chanin reports to John I. Wilson, the union’s executive director. He has worked with 14 NEA presidents and five executive directors during his 40 years in the job. Daily duties: Chanin’s position has been general counsel for 40 years, and called it “the closest you can get to having a well-paying job doing pro bono work.” His activities encompass labor relations, individual rights, political activity and education reform. A typical day would be one “in which I am involved in a multitude of things,” he said. Although “always optimistic,” Chanin noted that the union faces a time of challenge. “Public education is under attack,” he said, and there doesn’t seem to be a single issue on which the NEA and the Bush administration agree. Chanin cited former Secretary of Education Rod Paige’s description of the NEA as “a terrorist organization.” The No Child Left Behind Act, now up for reauthorization by Congress, has preoccupied Chanin for the past six years. In February 2007, the NEA filed suit, challenging the program on the ground that Congress has provided $72 billion less than was promised when the law was enacted. The union is awaiting a ruling by the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals as to whether the federal government must make up the shortfall, rather than forcing states and local governments to exhaust their own resources. The union has challenged the constitutionality of using public dollars on vouchers for parochial schools, as well as other school choice programs, based on the establishment clause of the First Amendment and religion clauses in various state constitutions. Pre-eminent advocate: Chanin has briefed and argued five cases before the U.S. Supreme Court and has filed amicus curiae briefs in another 25. He has briefed and argued more than 40 matters before the circuit courts of appeals in cases spotlighting First and 14th amendment issues of free speech, free association, equal protection, due process and the separation of church and state. Under Chanin’s legal guidance, the NEA achieved a breakthrough in 1965 by becoming the first professional organization to desegregate. The then-predominantly white NEA merged at the national level with the American Teachers Association, which represented black teachers. It took 10 years to enforce the merger on sometimes reluctant state affiliates. Chanin helped to oust all-white Mississippi and Louisiana teachers’ groups that refused to integrate. Chanin, a widely recognized authority on public-sector labor relations, helped draft and implement labor statutes in 13 states. He has negotiated collective bargaining agreements on behalf of NEA affiliates in various jurisdictions. “I don’t think there was any negotiation that I was involved in from beginning to end that ultimately ended up in a strike,” he said. Route to present position: Chanin earned his bachelor’s degree from Brooklyn College in 1956 and entered Yale Law School. While there, he taught psychology at New Haven College. Upon graduation in 1959, he became a staff attorney at Columbia Law School while pursuing a master’s degree in psychology at Columbia University, which he completed in 1961. He joined the New York firm then known as Kaye, Scholer, Fierman, Hays and Handler (now simply Kaye Scholer). The NEA retained the firm in 1962, when New York City teachers were gearing up for a 20,000-worker strike. In 1968, the union asked Chanin to become its first general counsel. From 1972 until 1980, he concurrently served as general counsel and deputy executive director of the NEA. Also concurrent with his NEA duties, Chanin practiced at Bredhoff & Kaiser for 25 years, leaving the law firm in 2005. Chanin is president of the National Organization of Lawyers for Education Associations, and an executive and board member of the National Resource Center for Consumers of Legal Services. He has been a lecturer at George Washington University Law School, is a published author and was a member of the now-defunct National Coalition for Public Education and Religious Liberty. Personal: Chanin and his wife, Rhoda, recently celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary. They are the parents of Jeffrey, 50; Stacy, 47; and Lisa, 45, and have five grandchildren. The Brooklyn, N.Y., native’s heavy workload prevents him having hobbies, but he hopes eventually to return to his childhood love of art. Last book and movie: Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln, by Doris Kearns Goodwin, and The Bourne Ultimatum.

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