How Do you Spell Clout? AFT
Children are the collateral damage of the COVID-19 pandemic. Although least likely to become infected by the disease, children in the United States lost a full year of in-school learning as public health officials and politicians imposed mandatory lockdowns on public schools.
We still don’t know the long-term effects that being out of the classroom and away from friends, teachers, and the everyday routines of the classroom will have on children, but experts in education and child development are agreed that it is not good. Yet, why have the teacher’s unions been so hesitant to go back to school?
The American Federation of Teachers (AFT) is the nation’s second-largest teacher’s union, and its leadership including its president Randi Weingarten strongly resisted returning to the classroom for months. In July 2020 she even threatened a “safety strike” to keep schools closed. Why?
On today’s episode of TheDrillDown, co-hosts Peter Schweizer and Eric Eggers discuss the outsized influence of the AFT on schools, education, and on the politicians who set those policies. This is the first of a series of podcasts Peter and Eric will be doing on the power of the teacher’s unions.
Peter notes that while Donald Trump was still president, the AFT repeatedly shifted the goalposts on what they would accept before the nation’s schools could resume regular, classroom instruction. First, he says, it was waiting for a vaccine. Then it was insisting that all teachers be among the first ones vaccinated. Then, they insisted all the students were vaccinated first, despite mountains of scientific evidence that children were least at risk from the disease. Then it was no school until teachers and students were vaccinated and masks would still be required.
Why did they do this? And why was their shifting opinion so important to policymakers?
To start with, AFT endorsed and supported president Joe Biden during the campaign, citing Biden’s long history with the union and his career championing the values of strong public schools.
That came with money. According to Open Secrets, candidate Biden received the most in campaign contributions from teachers unions by far in the 2020 cycle, more than four times the next highest candidate (Bernie Sanders for Senate).
Teacher’s unions also donated large sums to liberal groups in general that influenced the election: $23.5 million from the National Education Association and $14 million from AFT. Together, these “two groups spent $43 million in political expenditures during the 2020 election cycle, according to Open Secrets,” said Fox News.
Randy Weingarten, the AFT president, said in an interview with the Jewish News of Northern California, “I think my job actually didn’t get any easier with the election of the new administration. What happened was that we became much more involved in policy. We spent a lot of time in meetings because the new administration actually wants to hear input as opposed to fighting from the outside.”
This reveals that the AFT is cooperating with the Biden Administration on policy. The question remains, how much is Weingarten, and by extension the AFT, influencing the Biden Administration’s policy on schools?
We know, through emails obtained through FOIA requests, of the close cooperation between Weingarten and her labor union and Centers for Disease Control director Rachelle Walensky in shaping that agency’s school-opening guidance.
“The AFT has been rewarded by giving them a seat at the table when it comes to health issues,” notes Eric Eggers.