During the 2021 fiscal year, the two largest teachers unions in the US – the National Education Association (NEA) and the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) – collected approximately $575 million in dues from their members.
How did they spend these funds? In past decades these funds were spent on traditional union activities including collective bargaining, advocating for increased funding for public schools, and continuing to build the professionalization of teachers.
However, in the last twenty years that has changed. Year by year, more teacher dues are being spent on political campaigns and lobbying. In fact, over the past four years the NEA has spent more money on political activities and lobbying than on traditional “representational activities.”
Many Americans noticed that during the pandemic the actions and policy positions taken by both of the national teachers unions on school closures kept their children out of the classroom for months. Further, union leaders have chosen to take very public positions on divisive issues. These positions are publicized through resolutions, political events, and other activities.
A new report by the Government Accountability Institute (GAI) looks at this pattern. In this report, GAI examined the spending forms that the two unions must file annually detailing their spending activities. GAI researchers reviewed documents filed by the two largest teachers unions with the US Department of Labor (DOL). The filings, called LM-2 reports, provide a detailed map of union spending priorities.
GAI president and investigative journalist Peter Schweizer commented on the report’s findings. “Unfortunately, this research confirms that America’s national teachers unions are more interested in advancing a radical political agenda than in actually representing their members,” he said.
The teachers unions have always had a political element, of course. What may shock many Americans and even union members, however, is the diversion of spending priorities imposed by top union officials over the last fifteen years related to tens of millions of dollars in funds collected from America’s teachers.
Surveys show that the approximately 57 percent of teachers call themselves Republicans or independents, yet almost 100 percent of the union spending supports Democrat and progressive candidates and policy positions.
Highlights from our report:
- In 2021, the NEA spent more union dues on political activities and lobbying than on representational activities – and it was not close. Documents show in 2021 the NEA spent $66 million on “Political Activities and Lobbying” and $32 million on “Representational activities.”
- In the 2020 election cycle, 100 percent of the $59 million in contributions to outside groups by the NEA and AFT went to liberal causes even though surveys show approximately 57 percent of teachers identify as conservative or independent.
- The NEA and AFT routinely make campaign donations to such polarizing candidates as Nancy Pelosi, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Berne Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, and Hillary Clinton.
- From 2018 to 2020, the AFT and NEA donated $1.475 million to Stacey Abrams’s Fair Fight political action committee (PAC).
- Comparing 2005 to 2021, spending by the NEA and AFT on political activities and lobbying increased by $74 million. During this same 16-year period, spending on teacher representational activities increased $5.3 million.
- In 2020, the AFT paid retiring secretary-treasurer Loretta Johnson $1.4 million (p.16) in compensation. In 2019 she was paid $308,000 (p.7). Johnson chaired AFT’s 2014 “Racial Equity Task Force” which claimed in a 2015 report “that racial equity cannot be separated from the critical race theory-influenced concept of economic justice.”
- In 2021, the NEA and AFT gave approximately $30 million to left-wing issue advocacy groups, this is up from the $10 million given to these groups in 2005. The AFT gave to For Our Future and their related PAC ($1,500,000); Priorities USA Action ($500,000); and the Color of Change PAC ($100,000). The NEA gave $250,000 each to Priorities USA and the Virginia New Majority, and $100,000 to Progress Iowa.
- In 2021 AFT donated $100,000 to the Color of Change PAC, which supports a liberal voter mobilization organization called Voting While Black (2021 filing). Voting While Black opposes police unions, referring to them as “killer cop organizations.”
- Since 2015, The AFT and NEA donated over $2 million (DOL filings) in funds to The Center for Popular Democracy, a group which took credit for harassing elected officials during the Senate confirmation hearings for Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh.
- The AFT and NEA donated a total of $360,000 in 2021 to the issue advocacy group Sixteen Thirty (DOL filings). A watchdog group “identified five Facebook pages (Colorado Chronicle, Daily CO, Nevada News Now, Silver State Sentinel, Verified Virginia) that ‘gave the impression of multiple free-standing local news outlets,’ but are in fact ‘merely fictitious names used by the Sixteen Thirty Fund.’… These pages published Facebook political advertisements that favored Democrats and left-wing causes during the 2020 election. After the report was published a number of these pages were deleted.”
- In 2021 the NEA sent $3.4 million to Educational International, a worldwide teachers union based in Brussels, Belgium. The group is against school choice and advocates for climate change curriculum in schools.
- Reports show that the NEA also gave $3.5 million to the host organization for the Democratic National Convention in 2020.