Teachers have exclusive advocacy groups in the form of unions, including the National Education Association (NEA), the largest labor group in the country. They are so powerful that they helped keep many schools at least partially closed for a year, despite mounting evidence that with basic preventative measures schools pose little risk of increasing coronavirus spread.
But if the struggling parents who pay their salaries hoped for an organization of their own, they’re out of luck: What might have been the parents’ association was coopted by teachers, too – who injected a “T” and turned it into the PTA.
As has become clear in the last year, teachers’ interests are often different than those of parents. But in July, the NEA and the PTA co-wrote a letter opposing a push to open schools, writing, “The president should not be brazenly making these decisions.” With one possible exception — support for standardized testing — the PTA’s priorities appear to mirror those of teachers’ unions.
A Daily Wire review of tax filings and labor disclosures provides clues as to why: Across the country, there is evidence that PTAs have been hijacked not only by teachers, but by teachers’ unions.
National PTA board member Eric Champy was on the board of the NEA for years. After losing a race for president of the Massachusetts teachers’ union in 2018, he was elected to the National PTA Board of Directors in June 2019.
National PTA’s executive director Nathan Monell, who is paid $347,000, was previously executive director of Learning First Alliance, a group with ties to both national teachers’ unions, the NEA and the American Federation of Teachers (AFT).
There are seemingly endless examples of similar overlap in state, regional and local PTA chapters across the country.
In Fairfax County, Virginia, the teachers’ union’s aggressive posture — insisting that teachers be given the right to stay home even after receiving vaccination — has drawn outrage from parents. The union’s president is Kimberly Adams, a Democratic activist who ran for Congress in 2018. Incredibly, that is not the only position she has held: Adams was president of the union from 2013 to 2016. That same year, she became president of the Fairfax County Council of PTAs. Then she went back to being president of the union.
In Colorado, Ami Prichard is both vice president of the Colorado PTA and sits on the national board of the NEA, where she represents Colorado teachers. The Colorado PTA voted to support a ballot measure that would direct surplus funds to schools rather than a potential rebate to taxpayers.
A 2014 picture under the title, “Ami Pritchard- Colorado NEA Director” shows her wearing a union-red blazer and holding a sign that says “Vote yes on Amendment 66… I want quality teachers with resources!”
A 2020 photo shows her wearing what appears to be the same red blazer under the title “Education Finance 101… Ami Pritchard, vice president of marketing and communications for Colorado PTA shares how getting involved in your child’s school district can help you learn more about the education finance policies in your area.”
In recent months, her NEA persona has continued to press teacher priorities such as cancelling tests and postponing school re-opening.
In California’s Bay Area, Jennifer Shanoski is the outspoken president of the Peralta Federation of Teachers. At Peralta Community College, whose staff are part of the union, Chancellor Regina Stanback Stroud resigned in July, accusing members of the college’s board of trustees of “collusion with the unions” that made it impossible to run a functioning institution. But that was not the only example of potential blurring of the lines between a union and an oversight group.
In December 2019, Shanoski was “campaign co-chair” for an initiative with Berkeley’s city-wide PTA that turned parents into activists for an initiative generated by a teachers’ union. “Campaign for Measures E, G, and H – how PTAs can get involved,” her presentation said. “This is a nuts-and-bolts organizing session. Gail and Jennifer will help each school plug into the campaign’s plans for phone banking, door-to-door leafleting, and other tasks. There’s something for everyone to do!”
Measure E was conceived of by teachers’ unions and entailed raising taxes to give teachers a 12% raise; the other measures extended another tax increase and raised funds for schools. Teachers’ unions funded a campaign promoting the measures through a group simply titled The Committee for Berkeley Public Schools.
The East Bay Times editorial board blasted the “shameless audacity” of pushing three measures that would cost taxpayers to benefit educators, all in one election. It said backers “would prefer voters don’t have the complete picture,” such as that the progressive, high-tax area had already showered educators with numerous giveaways.
But Shanoski had the parents where she wanted them, and the measures passed.
When teachers’ union officials also have roles in the PTA, it is impossible to know where one job stops and the other begins. Shanoski is also treasurer of the PTA of Malcolm X Elementary in Berkeley, where a major PTA initiative consists of asking parents to bring checks for $500 per student to Shanoski’s house to “pay for the important programs not covered by public school funds… [e]ven though Berkeley schools are well-funded.”
She gathered in front of Malcolm X with children holding union-printed signs saying “You can’t put students first if you put teachers last” and “We stand with Oakland teachers.” On Facebook, she promoted flyers saying “Teachers unions are preparing to strike this winter” and “Don’t make kids pay for adult mistakes!”
In New York state, Bridget Englehard was treasurer of a PTA while also serving as treasurer of the Ravena-Coeymans-Selkirk teachers union. On Facebook, her posts alternate between encouraging parents to buy merchandize for school fundraisers, asking people to “please stop” talking about whether schools will reopen next year, and posting union materials that say things like “YOU COULD LOSE YOUR PENSION! VOTE NO.”
In Stockton, California, Kadie Collette was both treasurer of the PTA of the elementary school where she taught, and treasurer of the teachers’ union, for whom she was a key bargaining negotiator. She gave a speech at a statewide union conference about how her strategies “helped their local unions win better contracts.”
In Alaska, Amey Tamagni was bylaws chair of the statewide PTA, while also serving on the board of the statewide AFT union. Outside of San Diego, Kerry Strong was both head of programs for the PTA at the school where she taught and vice president of the union, in which role she took part in negotiations.
The examples go on and on.
Parents told The Daily Wire that teachers, including union officials, often take an outsized role in its leadership. They, after all, have a financial stake in what happens in schools and are paid to spend their days immersed in the issues. Parents, on the other hand, have to make time to volunteer in the few free hours that they have.
That leads to an imbalance of power, in which PTA chapters are often dominated by a combination of teachers and activists pushing pet causes. Ordinary, moderate parents who simply have an interest in ensuring that their child’s school is functioning as well as it should be are easily elbowed out.
And parents who assume that PTA is a place to advocate for their and their children’s interests — like getting them back to school — might find themselves instead told to bake cupcakes to raise money for teachers who are working from home.
This is the last in a three-part series on the Parent Teacher Association.