Tennessee Education Association (TEA) is the largest teachers union in Tennessee,  representing 46,000 teachers.  It is a state-level affiliate of the National Education Association (NEA) and is affiliated with the Tennessee Retired Teachers Association. The TEA supports left-of-center political policies, including opposing school vouchers and charter schools and demanding stricter restrictions on schooling and students during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The TEA is actively involved in state-wide and local politics, donating over $500,000 to political candidates and PACs in the 2018 election cycle. The union has traditionally supported both Democrats and Republicans despite the NEA’s Democratic leanings, with expenditures slightly favoring Democrats in the 2016 cycle, and Republicans in the 2018 cycle. In 2018, TEA endorsed and financed both Republican Tennessee Speaker of the House Beth Harwell and Democratic House Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh in their respective gubernatorial primary races, though neither candidate won their primaries.
In 2018, Beth Brown became the president of the TEA. She has focused her leadership on combatting “high-stakes standardized testing” and increasing public education funding. She has also prioritized “racial and social justice issues.” 
Funding and Membership
The Tennessee Education Association’s funding has steadily shifted to rely more on grants from the National Education Association (NEA) and less on membership dues. In 2014, the TEA earned 90% of its revenue from dues-paying members. By 2016, only 82% of the TEA’s funding came from member dues, while NEA grants accounted for nearly all the rest. During that two-year span, the TEA lost 13% of its membership and cut almost 20% of its staff. 
The TEA’s membership dues are collected by automatic payroll deductions. The TEA offers liability insurance to all Tennessee teachers, but dues are automatically collected from all who opt-in, regardless of union membership status.  The TEA has held a “virtual monopoly” on automatic payroll deductions in Tennessee schools for thirty years, though in 2017, legislation supported by the Professional Educators of Tennessee was introduced to permit other teachers’ organizations to access the system. The bill was defeated. 
2020 Legislative Agenda
The Tennessee Education Association’s 2020 legislative agenda aimed to increase education spending in Tennessee by $500 million, or $522 per student, a 9% increase over the previous year. Half of the spending increase would go toward raising teacher salaries, $200 million would go toward student support staff, $25 million would go toward teacher benefits to offset rising healthcare premiums, and $25 million would go toward school supplies. 
Regarding standardized testing, the legislative agenda asks for the increased enforcement of transparency laws, a de-emphasis of school and teacher evaluations based on testing, and alternative means of evaluations beyond testing. 
Regarding teacher labor regulations, the legislative agenda asks for the implementation of tenure, more local control over teacher licenses and suspensions, and the strengthening of PECCA, Tennessee’s legislation to fund and organize conferences for professional development. 
The legislative agenda supports halting charter school expansions, ending Tennessee’s voucher program, and closing the Achievement School District (ASD), an academic intervention system which targets students at the bottom 5% of performance throughout the state. 
In October 2020, the Tennessee Education Association supported the passage of the Tennessee COVID-19 Recovery Act, which among many provisions, created compliance standards for school districts to meet to avoid the potential for litigation regarding the spread of COVID-19. 
In November, TEA issued demands to Governor Bill Lee (R-TN) regarding the state government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. TEA called for universal mask mandates in schools, emergency state funding for personal protective equipment for teachers and students, state guidelines for school closures to combat outbreaks, state funding for extended educator sick leave, hazard pay for all school staff who interact with students, and to provide additional health benefits for infected school staff. 
In early 2021, the TEA issued a statement calling for Governor Lee to prioritize teachers in Tennessee’s vaccine distribution. 
In August, Governor Lee signed an executive order permitting parents to opt-out of mandatory mask mandates in local school districts. In September, after eight Tennessee teachers had died of COVID, TEA reiterated its opposition to this policy and other alleged overreaches of the state government. 
Later in September, the TEA issued a statement calling for local school districts, rather than the Tennessee Department of Education (TDE), to have the authority to temporarily transition to online learning during COVID-19 outbreaks. TEA president Beth Brown argued that the TDE has been too slow in responding to district requests, often resulting in students using sick days to leave school and do no work despite small numbers of COVID cases. 
Critical Race Theory
In May 2021, the Tennessee legislature passed a bill prohibiting the teaching of certain forms of discourse on race in schools (often summarized as a ban on teaching “critical race theory”). The Tennessee Education Association opposed the bill and pressured Governor Bill Lee (R-TN) to veto it.  In an interview with National Public Radio, TEA president Beth Brown criticized the bill as being overly broad and vague, and of potentially levying devastating penalties on local school districts. Parents of students may lodge a complaint against teachers within 30 days of an incident, and then it is up to the discretion of the Tennessee Department of Education to render a verdict. If a teacher is found guilty, the school district could be liable to pay fines of up to $5 million. 
In 2019, the Tennessee legislature debated two bills that would establish educational savings accounts and an infrastructure for setting up charter schools. The Tennessee Education Association opposed both bills and organized local protests in local school districts. Both bills passed but face ongoing challenges in the courts.  
In the 2016 election cycle, the Tennessee Education Association spent $430,000 on political donations. 61% of contributions went to Democratic candidates or PACs. 
In the 2018 election cycle, the TEA spent $529,000 on political donations, with 55% of contributions going to Republican candidates or PACs. The largest in-state recipients were the Democrat-affiliated Tennessee Tomorrow PAC, the Tennessee Democratic Party, the House Republican Caucus, State Senator Katrina Robinson (D-Memphis), and the Senate Republican Caucus. The largest single recipient, which received $44,000, was the Heartland Accountability Project, an Iowa-based “dark money” group which funnels money into attack ads against Republicans across the country.