The American Federation of Teachers’ get-out-the-vote bus tour began its Pennsylvania leg in Pittsburgh on Wednesday. The tour, designed to bolster left-wing candidates, comes shortly after AFT President Randi Weingarten authored a divisive column, stating that “American democracy is under the gravest threat since the Civil War.”
This rhetoric should come as no surprise.
The AFT’s political action committee (PAC) has spent nearly $20 million this election cycle, with $5 million of that going to Democratic Congressional committees and 100 percent of their candidate donations going to Democrats.
In Pennsylvania, AFT state and local affiliate PACs have spent $5.9 million since 2007, most of which went to progressive candidates and PACs. Josh Shapiro has been among the largest recipients of AFT PAC money, having received $760,000 from the AFT and its affiliates. (Not to be outdone, the National Education Association and its state affiliate have given $925,000 in PAC contributions to Shapiro).
Additionally, AFT reported spending a whopping $49 million in members’ dues on political activities and lobbying in 2020-2021. Not surprisingly, almost all political expenditures went to left wing organizations — including groups that advocate for higher taxes, defunding the police, and strengthening ties with the Chinese government.
As part of their mass lobbying effort, Weingarten and other public school union executives consistently advocated for school closures throughout 2020 and 2021. Freedom of Information Act requests showed that the union’s suggested language was directly adopted into restrictive CDC school reopening policies.
Weingarten and the AFT received heavy criticism following October’s release of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), or Nation’s Report Card. The 2022 NAEP shows significant declines in reading and math test scores following the pandemic.
Pennsylvania saw decreases in both math and reading scores. Moreover, the drops were consistent across both fourth and eighth grades. Fewer than 40 percent of Pennsylvania fourth and eighth grade students were proficient in math or reading. In Philadelphia four out of five students have failed to reach proficient levels.
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The NAEP findings are consistent with the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment (PSSA) scores, which showed significant decreases in language arts and math proficiency.
Since the release of our children’s learning loss data, Weingarten has attempted to rewrite history, stating that AFT had advocated for in-person learning throughout the pandemic. However, the record is clear; Weingarten and AFT were against returning to in-person learning during the 2020–21 school year.
Weingarten is being rightfully condemned for her role in school closures.
Both parents and public school teachers realize that it was union executives that closed schools longer than they needed to be. Indeed, an Education Next survey found that 40 percent of teachers reported union leaders interfered with a return to the classroom.
Rochelle Porto, a special education teacher in Philadelphia comments, “I wasn’t able to provide in-person instruction to my students in Philadelphia for over a year, and the impact is staggering. Today, I see colleagues faced with students presenting unprecedented academic struggles across core subjects and escalating behavioral needs, all because of Ms. Weingarten’s insistence that schools stay closed. Our local union is more focused on getting out the vote this year than on serving its members in this great time of need.”
Weingarten’s union hasn’t only hurt students. AFT’s political advocacy constantly puts teachers in the middle of an “unasked” culture battle with union bosses. In addition to supporting politics their members disagree with, AFT has a history of bullying non-member teachers, going to court to prevent teachers from leaving the union and opposing pension reform that would benefit most teachers.
Luckily, the Pennsylvania legislature has bills to empower teachers, alongside state workers, against union coercion and hypocrisy. House Bill 2042 would notify teachers of their constitutional rights, while House Bill 2036 would allow teachers to leave the union if and when they so desire. And House Bill 2037 would allow teachers to vote on their union representation through regular reelections, thus holding union leaders accountable.
Lastly, House Bill 2048 would end the use of taxpayer resources to collect union political funds, forcing Weingarten to solicit campaign contributions — and explain to teachers how that political money would be spent.
Nathan Benefield is the Senior Vice President of the Commonwealth Foundation, Pennsylvania’s free-market think tank.