One of the nation’s largest teachers unions spent $49 million — 25% of its members’ dues — on political causes.
The American Federation of Teachers (AFT) collected nearly $197 million in dues from school employees during the 2020-2021 fiscal year — a $10 million increase, despite the union’s loss of over 13,000 members, according to a report from Americans for Fair Treatment.
During the same period, the AFT spent $49 million — nearly 25% of total dues collected — on political causes. “According to federal law, member dues can be used for a variety of political activities, such as issue advocacy, get-out-the-vote drives, election mailers, lobbying, and public marketing campaigns,” the report says.
“In our experience, parents and even some teachers are not aware that teachers unions are deeply partisan political organizations,” Americans for Fair Treatment researcher Suzanne Bates told The Daily Wire.
Among other contributions, the AFT gave $11.3 million to political action funds of the New York State Union of Teachers (NYSUT), which endorsed leading New York Democrats such as Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, Governor Kathy Hochul, and Attorney General Letitia James. The AFT also gave $2.4 million to AL Media, a creative advertising firm that seeks “to protect progressive values and to win,” and $1.75 million to Senate Majority PAC, which exists to “elect Democratic senators.”
According to Bates, the AFT “did not give any money to conservative candidates or organizations from their members’ dues.”
“It may be that a few Republicans received donations directly from the union’s PAC, or that some of the union’s affiliates gave money to Republicans, but AFT headquarters did not give any money directly to the political right,” she told The Daily Wire. “Teachers unions are one of the largest special interest groups in the country. They spend more on lobbying efforts than the NRA and Planned Parenthood combined.”
Indeed, the National Review reported in 2018 that the two entities spent a total of $43 million on lobbying — with Planned Parenthood’s efforts to support Democratic candidates constituting 88% of those funds.
Beyond substantial salaries for leadership — including nearly $450,000 for AFT President Randi Weingarten and over $200,000 for her two assistants — the AFT also “paid $4.1 million last year to employees who engaged in political activities for the union,” according to the report.
In 2018, the Supreme Court ruled in Janus v. AFSCME that labor unions do not have the power to collect fees from nonmembers. Nevertheless, many teachers do not avail themselves of the opportunity for a variety of reasons.
“The problem is many public sector employees might not know about this ruling,” American Federation for Children national director of research Corey DeAngelis told The Daily Wire. “Even if they do, they might be willing to ignore the fact that much of their dues are going to polarized political causes that don’t align with their beliefs since they may need other benefits such as liability insurance.”
Indeed, the AFT offers several insurance discounts to its members — as well as $5,000 in free term life insurance and $5,000 in free accidental death and dismemberment insurance.
In a 2017 poll of school employees conducted by Education Week, 41% identified as Democrats, 30% identified as independents, and 27% identified as Republicans. Although Democrats represented the plurality of government educators, “these findings suggest a substantial number of teachers probably aren’t happy about their dues going to progressive political causes,” DeAngelis remarked.
Many families have opted for school choice in the wake of public schools closing their doors in response to COVID-19. A recent study from the American Enterprise Institute and the College Crisis Initiative at Davidson College revealed that districts with the most virtual classes churned 4.4% of their students, while districts that chose not to rely on remote classes lost 1.1% of students. Teachers unions, however, have pressured schools to remain closed.
Over the last two years, several high-profile examples of radical progressive curricula — especially with relation to gender ideology and race relations — have made national headlines. The AFT, however, has repeatedly nodded toward progressive activists in the LGBTQ and racial justice movements.
One report found that from March 2020 to September 2020 alone, homeschooling rates across the country grew between 5.4% and 11%. By the summer of 2021, 5 million American children were receiving their education at home.
Weingarten has voiced disdain toward home education. In response to a Washington Post article attributing the rise in homeschooling among black families to racism, Weingarten said that such a decision is “not okay” — because “no child should choose homeschooling because of how they are treated at school.”
“The teachers unions have overplayed their hand and awakened a sleeping giant: parents who want more of a say in their children’s education,” DeAngelis commented. “For a long time, the employee unions were the only major special interest groups in K-12 education. Thankfully, parents are the new special interest group in town, and they aren’t going away any time soon.”
The views expressed in this piece are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent those of The Daily Wire.