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Deductions for North Carolina educators' group at risk

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RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — Members of the North Carolina Association of Educators could no longer have dues deducted regularly from their public school paychecks because the group won't disclose its exact size to state auditors.

State Auditor Beth Wood's office released a report Friday about membership totals of employee associations or unions with state or local government workers who have authorized voluntary dues payroll deductions.

Wood was carrying out a 2014 state law directing her to verify whether an association meets membership thresholds to continue deductions. Auditors requested data from a dozen groups. The NCAE, known for decades as the state's largest teacher lobbying group, "refused to provide membership information," the auditor's report said.

The law says NCAE and other employee associations with a majority of members comprised of public school teachers, must have 40,000 members to qualify for the dues checkoff.

This law and a 2012 law that ultimately was struck down in court mark efforts by the Republican-led General Assembly to scale back or eliminate such deduction transactions with private associations — particularly NCAE, which historically has aligned itself overwhelmingly with Democrats.

Sen. Ralph Hise, R-Mitchell, a frequent critic of the dues checkoff, was aware of the auditor's issue earlier this month. He wrote to State Controller Linda Combs about organizations that don't qualify.

"If they do not, continued employee-directed payroll deduction for their benefit no longer complies with the law," Hise said in the Dec. 2 letter. It appears other teachers' associations also may fall short of the 40,000 threshold, based on the report data.

Claire Ennis, a spokeswoman with the State Controller's Office, said the agency would review the report received late Friday and "will take appropriate action as dictated by law."

NCAE spokesman Tim Crowley said the group had nothing to add to the report.

Crowley said previously in recent weeks that the organization doesn't release membership totals.

An NCAE website page lists the overall membership at 70,000, but an NCAE lawsuit challenging the 2012 law that eliminated NCAE dues deductions only identified the group as having about 50,000 members.

NCAE has been among the most vocal critics of GOP education policy since Republicans took over the General Assembly in 2011. Its leaders have said a large majority of the association revenues for lobbying and legislative advocacy come from dues. Ending the automatic deductions would make it harder for NCAE to retain members.

Wood's report also appears to verify other employee associations have exceeded thresholds in the law, including the State Employees Association of North Carolina and Southern States Police Benevolent Association.

The report does quantify how many association members participate in government payroll deductions. The State Employees Association had the most at just over 32,000, followed by NCAE at about 9,500.

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