The National Education Association (NEA) was founded in Philadelphia in 1857 as the National Teachers Association (NTA). Zalmon Richards was elected the NTA's first president and presided over the organization's first annual meeting in 1858. The NTA became the National Education Association (NEA) in 1870 when it merged with the American Normal School Association, the National Association of School Superintendents, and the Central College Association.
The NEA has a membership of just under 3 million people. The NEA is incorporated as a professional association in a few states and as a labour union in most. The group holds a congressional charter under Title 36 of the United States Code. It is not a member of the AFL–CIO, but is part of Education International, the global federation of teachers' unions.
NEA members set the union's policies through the Representative Assembly (RA). The RA, which is a delegation comprising elected representatives from each local and state affiliate, coalitions of student members and retired members, and other segments of the united education profession—is the primary legislative and policy-making body of the NEA.
In 2006, the NEA and the AFL–CIO also announced that, for the first time, stand-alone NEA locals as well as those that had merged with the AFT would be allowed to join state and local labor federations affiliated with the AFL-CIO. In 2007, at the 150th anniversary of its founding, NEA membership had grown to 3.2 million. However, by July 2012, USA Today reported that NEA had lost more than 100,000 members since 2010.