In a recent article in the journal Education Next, Mike Antonucci reviewed the finances of the two largest teachers unions, the National Education Association (NEA) and the American Federation of Teachers (AFT). He found teachers unions in states like Oregon, Colorado, and Montana spent several hundreds of dollars per teacher for political campaign spending on candidates and ballot initiatives. New York, according to Antonucci, spent only $5 per teacher.
But this is only part of the picture. Another source of political spending can be found in financial documents that the city teachers union, the United Federation of Teachers (UFT), filed with the federal government. According to this “LM-2” filing, the UFT spent around $31 per teacher, or a little over $2.4 million overall, out of a $202 million budget, on political activities during the 2008-2009 school year.* The UFT membership, however, consists of more than just teachers. If you included total UFT membership — 164,462 — spending on political activities would be around $16 per member. (To be clear, Antonucci only considered active teachers in his calculations.)
In addition to this spending, which includes things like lobbying, buses to events, and phone banks, the UFT has a political action committee (PAC). The PAC is a stand-alone group whose specific purpose is to dole out money to politicians, groups, and ballot measures that the union supports. The UFT’s PAC, known as the Committee on Political Education (“COPE”), is funded by voluntary member contributions as well as other sources.
COPE spent $187,411 in 2008-2009 on donations to politicians. The fund’s balance — the amount that could theoretically be given away — has also dramatically increased, to $1.35 million in July 2009, from an average of $124,000 during 2000-2005. Furthermore, contributions to the COPE — the amount that members have voluntarily given to the union’s political activities — have reached their highest level in 10 years. In contrast, the amount the UFT spent on political activities independent of COPE has remained relatively constant at around $2.5 million annually.
Much of the increase in political giving could be due to the pressure that teachers unions around the country have faced. According to an article in the Wall Street Journal today, charter supporters outspent the UFT during by about $100,000 during this same period. Last year contributions to COPE could have been particularly high due to the mayoral race and the battle over mayoral control, although the increase in COPE’s coffers came earlier.
Although the dues for UFT members vary by job type, teachers are required to contribute $47.27 of their paycheck every two weeks to the UFT. This means that around 3 percent of a typical teacher’s UFT dues is spent on political activity. UFT members can also elect to send part of their paycheck to COPE. According to the UFT handbook, this voluntary contribution is usually around $5 per paycheck.
The UFT’s LM-2 also lists the amount of time that UFT employees spend on various activities. My analyses found that 61 of the 623 paid UFT employees, or around 10 percent, spent more than a quarter of their time on political activities. Overall, around 7 percent of all UFT employee activities are devoted to political lobbying.
The majority of the UFT’s funds were spent on benefits for members, consultants, and lawyers. However, the UFT, like the AFT and the NEA, also spends a significant amount of its funds supporting left-leaning organizations. The biggest donations were to groups like ACORN and the National Action Network. The UFT also contributed small sums to a wide number of community organizations and to a number of religious, political and ethnic organizations like the American Friends of the Yitzhak Rabin Center, Empire State Pride Agenda, Inc. and the Hispanic Federation. (A full breakdown of the UFT’s contributions is available below and in this spreadsheet.)
Salary-wise, 85, or 13 percent, of the 624 UFT employees made over $100,000, with the highest salary paid in 2008-2009 being $228,705. The average UFT salary was $51,215. It is important to note, however, that because many members work part-time, the numbers may be somewhat distorted.
As always, I welcome your feedback and questions and encourage any UFT members to share their understanding of the UFT’s finances in the comments.
* I arrived at the $31/teacher figure by using numbers provided to me by the DOE and contained within the UFT filing: According to the UFT’s filing, the union spent $2,404,820 on political activities during the 2009 fiscal year. Documents provided to me by the DOE stated that the active teaching force as of January 2009 was 78,728 teachers.
I covered Tennessee’s ed beat for Chalkbeat. Here’s what I learned.
For three years, I covered the Statehouse for Chalkbeat Tennessee, reporting on how policies from Nashville trickled down into more than 1,800 public schools across the state.
Now I’m starting back to school myself, pursuing graduate studies aimed at helping me to become a better education journalist. I’m taking with me six things I learned on the job about public education in Tennessee.
1. Apathy is often cited as a major problem facing education. That’s not the case in Tennessee.
I heard from hundreds of parents, educators, and students who were passionate about what’s happening — good and bad — inside of schools. I covered crowded school board meetings and regularly scrambled for an open seat at legislative hearings where parents had filled the room after driving since dawn to beat the opening gavel. Not incidentally, those parents usually came from communities with the “worst” schools and the lowest test scores. While many disagreements exist about the best way to run schools, there is no shortage of people, particularly parents and educators, who care.
2. Tennessee has one of the most fascinating education stories in America.
I’ve had a front-row seat to massive changes in K-12 education under reforms ushered in by Race to the Top — an overhaul being tracked closely well beyond the state’s borders. But the national interest and import doesn’t end with changes stemming from the $500 million federal award. Tennessee is home to some of the nation’s premier education researchers, making its classrooms laboratories for new ideas about pre-K, school turnaround, and literacy instruction, just to name a few. And at the legislature, more lobbyists are devoted to education than to most any other cause. A lot of eyes are on Tennessee schools.
3. The education community is not as divided as it looks.
During the course of just a few years, I watched state lawmakers change their positions on accountability and school vouchers. I witnessed “anti-charter” activists praise charter leaders for their work. I chronicled task force meetings where state leaders who were committed to standardized testing found middle ground with classroom educators concerned that it’s gone too far. In short, a lot of people listened to each other and changed their minds. Watching such consensus-building reminded me that, while there are no simple debates about education, there is a widespread commitment to making it better.
Even when stories don’t seem to be about money, they usually are. How much money is being spent on testing, teacher salaries, school discipline reform? How much should be available for wraparound services? Why do some schools have more money than others? Is there enough to go around? Tennessee leaders have steadily upped public education spending, but the state still invests less than most other states, and the disparities among districts are gaping. That’s why more than a handful of school districts are battling with the state in court. Conversations about money are inextricable from conversations about improving schools.
5. Race is a significant education issue, but few leaders are willing to have that conversation.
More than 60 years after Brown v. Board of Education, Tennessee’s schools are largely racially segregated. Yet most policymakers tread lightly, if ever, into conversations about achieving real racial integration. And in many cases — such as a 2011 law enabling mostly white suburban Shelby County towns to secede from the mostly black Memphis district — they’ve actually gone backwards. Then there’s the achievement data. The annual release of test scores unleashes a flurry of conversation around the racial achievement gap. But the other 11 months of the year, I heard little about whether state and local policies are closing those gaps — or contributing to them — or the historical reasons why the gaps exist in the first place. To be sure, state leadership is trying to address some of Tennessee’s shortcomings. For example, the State Department of Education has launched modestly funded initiatives to recruit more teachers of color. But often, race and racism are the elephants in the room.
6. Still, there’s lots to celebrate.
If there were unlimited hours in the day, I could have written thousands of stories about what’s going right in public education. Every day, I received story ideas about collaborations with NASA in Oak Ridge, high school trips to Europe from Memphis, gourmet school lunches in Tullahoma, and learning partnerships with the Nashville Zoo. Even in schools with the steepest challenges, they were stories that inspire happiness and hope. They certainly inspired me.
Grace Tatter graduated from public schools in Winston-Salem, N.C., and received her bachelor’s degree in history from the University of North Carolina. She’s now pursuing a master’s degree in specialized studies at the Harvard Graduate School of Education.
I’m a Houston geography teacher. This is my plan for our first day back — as soon as it arrives
- September 1, 2017
PHOTO: Creative Commons / Texas Military Department
Texas National Guard soldiers arrive in Houston, Texas to aid citizens in heavily flooded areas from the storms of Hurricane Harvey.
Hurricane Harvey has upended so many things here in Houston, where I am starting my third year as a teacher. One of them is the lesson I am planning for the first day of school — as soon as it arrives.
This upheaval is nothing compared to what people across the city have faced, including my students, who have been sending me photos of evacuation boats going past their houses.
But it is fundamental to the task of being a teacher at a time of crisis. As an A.P. Human Geography teacher, my job is to help students make connections between the geography concepts we are learning in class and their real lives: Does Houston look like the models of urban development we study? Does their family history include a migration?
Before the storm, my thinking went like this: I am white and was born in England and most of my students are Hispanic, many with parents who were born in other countries. I was excited for us to share and compare our different stories. My students last year were shocked and fascinated when they discovered that my white, middle-aged father who is a university professor was applying for a green card, just as many of their family members were.
Now, Hurricane Harvey has underlined for me the importance of those real-world connections. As I looked at the photos from my students, I was struck by how geography concepts can affect us in very real — even life-threatening — ways.
I had planned to teach a lesson at the end of the year about how urbanization affects the environment. The lesson looks at how urbanization can exacerbate flooding: for example, how paving over grassy areas can increase the speed with which rain reaches the bayous, causing the water levels to rise faster. I would then have students evaluate different policies cities can adopt to mitigate that risk, such as encouraging the building on brownfield rather than greenfield sites and passing laws to protect farmland — options that have significant benefits but also significant costs.
I have decided to move this lesson up in the curriculum and teach it when we have school again. School is scheduled to start again on Tuesday, though at this stage everything is provisional, as each hour we find out about more families that have had their homes destroyed by the rising waters. It is still unclear how all our staff, let alone students, will get to school.
I am worried that the lesson could re-traumatize students who have experienced so much trauma in the past few days. I know I will need to make an active effort to make students feel comfortable stepping into the hall if they are feeling overwhelmed. However, my experiences with the recent presidential election make me think that this lesson is exactly what some students might need.
After the election, many students were genuinely confused about what had happened. One question in particular was on their minds: How you can you win the popular vote but not the election? We talked through the Electoral College together, and having clarity about what had happened and why it happened seemed to give them a firmer foundation to build on as they processed their emotions. I am hopeful that teaching about flooding will help ground them in a similar way.
This lesson about flooding was once simply another lesson in the curriculum, but now it has taken on a new urgency. In moments of disaster, it is easy to feel powerless; I certainly could not help the people I saw posting on Facebook that they were been on hold with 911 for hours while standing on their roofs.
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Yet teachers have a unique power — the power to shape the minds of future generations to solve the problems that we face. Houston’s location means that it will always be susceptible to flooding. But by teaching about the flood I hope I can play a small role in helping our city avoid repeating some of the tragic scenes I witnessed this week.
Alex McNaughton teaches history and geography at YES Prep Southeast in Houston.