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The Bottom Line Teachers’ Unions’ Blame Game

Originally published at National Review

American Federation of Teachers (AFT) President Randi Weingarten was instrumental in keeping kids locked out of in-person schooling as she mercilessly pushed the union’s self-serving political agenda. Now she uses the dire situation she helped create as the excuse for the teacher-shortage crisis.

In May 2021, released emails showed Weingarten’s direct influence on the CDC’s February 2021 guidelines for reopening schools, which shied away from recommending schools fully reopen even as mounting scientific evidence demonstrated it was safe to do. Clearly the AFT’s nearly $20 million “investment” of donations to Biden and other Democratic candidates in the 2020 election cycle was paying dividends. 

Trying to deflect the scandal concerning how AFT’s recommendations made it almost verbatim into the final CDC guidance, Weingarten claimed that the “AFT represents 1.7 million educators, health-care professionals and public employees who spent the last 14 months serving on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic. So naturally, we have been in regular touch with the agencies setting policy that affect their work and lives, including the CDC.” In Weingarten’s world, K-12 employees not returning to school, and offering a few hours a day of Zoom sessions, equates to “serving on the front lines” during the pandemic.

According to the NEA, as of May, there were 380,000 unfilled positions in public education — a 70 percent increase over pre-pandemic staffing shortages in 2019. Not surprisingly, Weingarten abandons any responsibility.

Keri D. Ingraham

Weingarten recently rose to a new level of audacity by shifting the blame for the school staffing crisis on Republicans, who she claims politicized public education by creating an environment that drove the teacher shortage. Ironic, to say the least, given AFT’s allocation of 30 percent of its 2020-2021 expenditures to politics, totaling $48.4 million in political activities and another $5.9 million in contributions. And they’re only second to the National Education Association (NEA), which devotes nearly 50 percent of its expenses to political endeavors, according to Americans for Fair Treatment research. Given the NEA spends twice as much on politics (almost all of which is devoted to Democrats) than on representing its members, the union resembles a political, rather than membership, organization.

No wonder teacher union members are moving on. Most teachers presumably entered the profession to make a meaningful difference in students’ lives. So, it’s not surprising their inability to interact in-person with students has driven many to take flight — whether through early retirement, moving to private education, or entering a new profession.

Also contributing to teacher flight has been COVID-19 fearmongering pushed by the union as well as the vaccine and mask mandates forced upon educators. And as the teacher shortage grew, so did class sizes, making the challenge of catching students up after school closures spanning three school-years even more daunting. Finally, with the massive ongoing stress placed on students by the lack of structure experienced when they were forced out of school, it’s no wonder teachers feel overwhelmed to the point of quitting.

The magnitude of the crisis: According to the NEA, as of May, there were 380,000 unfilled positions in public education — a 70 percent increase over pre-pandemic staffing shortages in 2019.

Again, abandoning responsibility, Weingarten and the Left cite low teacher pay as the culprit. The solution proposed is, of course, higher teacher pay across the board. At least on this point, give them credit for doing what unions do — protecting their members’ jobs and negotiating for more pay regardless of performance.

Until we break the K-12 monopoly by empowering parents with education choices outside of the union-driven public system, as Betsy DeVos argues in her new book Hostages No More, the cycle will continue: “The union takes money from classroom teachers, who get paid by taxpayers, and use it to elect and lobby the politicians, who then increase the funding for schools and thus the union coffers.”

All this is to the detriment of our nation’s children. By electing champions of education freedom with the political will to stand up to unions, our nation can move past the teachers’ unions’ blame game and ensure students receive a high-quality education — one marked by transparency and accountability of student-learning results.

In the meantime, not only are teachers taking flight, but parents who can do so will continue to pull their children out of the government-run and union-controlled public schools by the droves in favor of alternative education models. Weingarten, no doubt, will be pointing fingers at everyone else — parents included.

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The American Center for Transforming Education is a program of Discovery Institute, a non-profit organization fueled by its supporters. Will you help us advance the timely and vital work of transforming our K-12 education system so that it better serves students and their families?