In 2005, the Michigan Education Association had 130,882 voting (active) members that were teachers and support professionals. According to recent disclosure documents, in 2015 the state's largest teachers union has 96,561 members, a decline of about 34,000 since 2005, or 26 percent.

The numbers on the most recent MEA membership came from the Portage Education Association’s website which cites MEA Secretary Treasurer Rick Trainor as its source. The numbers significantly differ from the MEA’s federal report from the previous year. The MEA didn’t respond to an email seeking comment on its overall decline in membership.

There are four main reasons for the decline.

1) Fewer students.

After 12 consecutive years of declining enrollment there are fewer students in Michigan public schools. The schools contained 1.75 million students in the fall of 2002. Over the next 12 years the number fell by nearly a quarter million, to 1.50 million in the fall of 2014, a 14-percent decline.

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Fewer students means fewer teachers — unionized or not — are needed.

2) Fewer teachers.

Michigan saw a 9-percent drop in the number of public school teachers over the past six years. There were 111,419 teachers in 2007-08 and 101,338 in 2013-14, the most recent year for which data is available.

But the MEA teacher membership saw attrition from two directions. Not only are there fewer public school teachers overall, but a greater proportion of them are non-unionized charter school teachers. Charter schools have a different organization but are still public schools.

In 2005 there were 6,442 charter school teachers working in Michigan. By 2014, 302 Michigan charter schools employed 10,443, an increase of 62 percent. Charter schools are almost all non-union.

The number of active teachers in the MEA has dropped 22 percent since 2005, from 92,207 to 72,320 in 2015.

3) Privatization.

More schools have outsourced non-core services to private contractors, meaning the people who do that work are no longer MEA members. The number of public school districts that contracted out for food, custodial or transportation services rose from 31 percent in 2001 to 71 percent in 2015, according to an annual survey done by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy.

Correspondingly, the MEA has lost 37 percent of its membership among professional support staff. The union had 38,675 education support professionals in 2005, but only 24,241 in 2015.

4) Right-to-work.

In 2012, the state Legislature passed a Michigan right-to-work law, which means workers in unionized workplaces no longer have to financially support the union as a condition of employment. The MEA reported it lost 6,500 members in the first two years of right-to-work. Many school districts reached agreements with their unions to extend contracts for several years before right-to-work became effective which stopped employees from being able to opt-out. It's estimated as many as 25 percent of the teachers in the state are in such contracts.

Editor's note: This article has been changed to add context to the source of the MEA's latest membership data.

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See also:

'Worst Fears' of MEA Realized as Teachers Leave

MEA's August Window Declared Illegal