by Kendall Tietz
One of the largest teachers unions in the country donated $2 million to the left-wing Senate Majority Political Action Committee in 2021 after the Democratic Party voted against reopening public schools, according to data from the National Republican Senatorial Committee provided to the Daily Caller News Foundation.
On March 6, 2021, Senate Democrats unanimously voted against a Republican amendment to the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan that would have ensured school reopening dollars were allocated to education institutions prioritizing in-person learning. Schools that were working to provide in-person learning for students five days a week would have been given full funding under the bill, while those that were completely closed would only get 25% of its allocated funding.
Subsequently, the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) Committee on Political Education donated $1 million dollars to the Senate Majority PAC (SMP) on May 27, according to Federal Election Commission data.
In January of 2021, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases said that President Joe Biden’s plan to reopen schools within the first 100 days of his presidency “may not happen,” during a virtual meeting with the AFT. At the time, teachers unions across the country were advocating to keep virtual learning.
On Jan. 2, 2022, Fauci expressed his support for a return to in-person learning, citing the detrimental effects virtual learning has had on children and the high vaccination rate among teachers during an interview with ABC News host George Stephanopoulos.
Despite Biden’s campaign promise to open schools in his first 100 days in office, the teachers unions kept shifting the goalpost citing concerns about student and teacher safety, unless districts met their safety demands.
On July 28, Weingarten said “we need to bring back our masks for schools” to keep kids and the union’s members safe to “try to open up schools.”
A week later, Weingarten suggested schools might close if students and teachers didn’t mask up, according to an Aug. 2 interview with CNN’s Jim Sciutto.
“The next question about will they stay open, that’s where we worry because when you have lots of kids particularly every child under 12 has not been vaccinated,” she added. “We see the Delta variant being very transmissible.”
Weingarten was harshly criticized after it was revealed that the AFT, along with the National Education Association (NEA), coordinated with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on drafting school reopening guidance in May.
The CDC initially said on May 13 that fully vaccinated individuals did not need to wear masks, but reversed course in July, advising those who had received the jab to continue wearing masks indoors amid an uptick in COVID-19 cases and the rise of the Delta variant.
A day after the CDC said fully-vaccinated Americans did not need to wear masks, the NEA emailed the White House and said it would release a statement critical of the CDC if it didn’t update its guidance for schools, the DCNF previously reported. On May 15, the CDC updated its guidance to clarify that everyone should wear a mask in schools.
The emails followed reports from May that purportedly showed extensive influence wielded by teachers unions in regards to CDC policies, even shaping some of the language of the February guidance on school reopening plans, based on emails obtained by a Freedom of Information Act request from Americans for Public Trust.
On Aug. 10, Senate Democrats unanimously voted again to block the amendment requiring schools to reopen. A few months later on Dec. 22, AFT’s non-profit, American Federation of Teachers Solidarity 527, donated another $1 million to the SMP, according to a document provided by the NRSC to the DCNF.
The National Education Association (NEA) Advocacy Fund, the largest teachers union in the U.S., also donated $500,000 to the SMP on Dec. 14.
During the 2020 election year, AFT donated $3.25 million to the SMP, but only gave $100,000 in 2019, according to Federal Election Commission (FEC) records. In 2018, a midterm election year, the AFT donated $1.75 million compared with $250,000 in 2017.
Throughout the pandemic, teachers unions have consistently advocated to keep schools closed, citing concerns over the health and safety of teachers and students. Those in favor of reopening schools have criticized teachers unions as using the pandemic and virtual learning as a way to gain political and financial advantage.
“Public schools receive money whether they open their doors or not,” according to a Wall Street Journal editorial, “Remote Instruction Is Bad for Mom and Dad,” by By and . “By keeping schools closed, teachers unions can effectively hold education hostage to secure a multibillion-dollar ransom from taxpayers.”
In 2020, school closures impacted almost all students across the U.S.’ 124,000 public and private schools, according to Education Week’s data. Research suggests that remote learning has affected students’ academic performance and emotional wellbeing.
Teachers unions and school districts were implementing remote learning at the beginning of 2021 as COVID-19 cases surged amid the rise of the Omicron variant.
The Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) voted to move to remote learning on Jan. 4 over what they said were concerns about safety amid the rise in COVID-19 cases around the start of the spring semester, according to a press release. The move prompted Chicago Public Schools to lock teachers out of virtual teaching platforms, which made remote instruction unavailable and forced schools to cancel classes for multiple days.
CTU’s strike was harshly criticized from both sides of the political spectrum.
“The facts are clear: school closures are HORRIBLE for kids,” Republican Texas Rep. Chip Roy said in response to CTU’s decision. “Rep Roy and @RandPaul’s SCHOOL Act (HR 1770): would ensure federal education funds follow STUDENTS instead of SYSTEMS & PUT PARENTS BACK IN CONTROL.”
“We can’t let children suffer because teacher unions don’t want to work,” he added.
The AFT and the SMP did not respond to the DCNF’s request for comment.
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Kendall Tietz is a reporter at Daily Caller News Foundation.
Photo “Randi Weingarten” by AFGE CC BY 2.0.