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Hillary’s Teachers’ Union Sellout

A one-time charter school supporter, Clinton now does the bidding of the American Federation of Teachers.

by Larry Sand
City Journal
October 26, 2016

The latest Labor Department financial disclosure from the American Federation of Teachers shows that in 2015–16 the teachers’ union spent $28,593,366 on political activities and lobbying. The money flowed almost exclusively leftward. In fact, according to the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics, AFT has given $76,446,797 to Democrats and liberals and just $363,000 to Republicans and conservatives since 1990. In other words, less than one half of 1 percent of the union’s political spending goes to the Right (and, in those cases, the money is typically used to support the more left-leaning of two Republicans running against each other).

Among the recipients of AFT’s largess this year are the Democratic Governors Association; the radical Hispanic activist group, National Council of La Raza; and George Soros’s far-left Democracy Alliance. AFT’s big brother, the National Education Association, isn’t much more balanced in its political spending. About 3 percent of its political donations go to conservatives, though a 2005 internal NEA survey showed its members “are slightly more conservative (50%) than liberal (43%) in political philosophy.” There is little reason to think the AFT or any other union is much different in the political makeup of its rank and file. Mary Kay Henry, president of the Service Employees International Union, which serves both public and private employees, acknowledged this past January that “64 percent of our public members identify as conservative.” Yet, going back to 1990, just one-half of one percent of the $234 million that SEIU spent on politics has gone rightward.

Additionally, the AFT made “contributions, gifts, and grants” of $5,076,607 in 2015–2016. These gifts weren’t made to the Boy Scouts or the Little Sisters of the Poor. Almost 10 percent of the union’s gifts went to the Clintons: $250,000 to both the Bill, Hillary & Chelsea Clinton Foundation and the Clinton Global Initiative. The AFT has given a total of $2.2 million over the last four years to the Clintons, and Hillary has dutifully fallen into line with her union benefactors. She once supported charter schools. No more.

At July’s National Education Association convention, Clinton made the mistake of diverting from the union party line, saying, “When schools get it right, whether they are traditional public schools or public charter schools, let’s figure out what’s working . . . and share it with schools across America.” This didn’t go over well with some of the union faithful, who booed. Realizing that she had strayed from union orthodoxy, Clinton made a course correction and railed against people pushing “for-profit charter schools on our kids. We will never stand for that. That is not acceptable.” Later, she asserted that, “There is no time for finger pointing, or arguing over who cares about kids more. It’s time to set one table and sit around it together—all of us—so we can work together to do what’s best for America’s children.” That table, Clinton promised, will always have “a seat for educators.” Two weeks later, at the American Federation of Teachers convention, she repeated her “seat at the table” promise.

Are those seats really for educators? Hardly. The reserved VIP seating is for union bosses and their fellow travelers. Clinton’s policy advisors include Lily Eskelsen García and Randi Weingarten, leaders of the two national teachers’ unions. They are joined by Carmel Martin and Catherine Brown, vice-presidents of the Center for American Progress, a leftist think tank financially supported by the teachers’ unions. Also present is education reformer Chris Edley, president of the Opportunity Institute, a California-based think tank whose board is a collection of Clinton cronies. And finally there is Richard Riley, who served as Bill Clinton’s education secretary and was the recipient of the NEA’s Friend of Education Award, which is really a “Friend of the NEA” award.

Clinton’s pandering to the teachers unions didn’t please education reformers, including some on the left. A troubled Democrats for Education Reform president Shavar Jeffries lamented, “There’s a lot of anxiety about the transition from this president to the next administration.” Kevin Chavous, a Democrat and founding board member of the American Federation for Children, added, “So far Clinton has largely been a representative of the interests of teachers’ unions and the status quo, which is in opposition to parents and students and will serve to be on the wrong side of history.”

Chavous is correct. Hillary Clinton has sold out to the teachers’ unions. Schoolchildren are the biggest losers.

Larry Sand, a retired teacher, is president of the California Teachers Empowerment Network and a contributor to City Journal’s book, The Beholden State: California’s Lost Promise and How to Recapture It.