First Person

Follow the Money: UFT Political Funds Highest in 10 Years

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.

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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.)

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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.

First Person

‘I didn’t feel like I had anyone to ask for support’: Why it matters to have teachers who look like me

PHOTO: Alan Petersime

For 10 years — the first decade I was in school — all my teachers were white women.

As a Mexican-American kid, I didn’t get the chance to have a man of color as a teacher until high school. Going into my senior year, I like how diverse my teachers are now, but I wish I’d had the same experience when I was younger.

When I think about why it matters to have a teacher I can relate to, I think back to fifth grade. A classmate said to me, “Mexicans are illegal—they cross the border every day! How about you, did you cross the border?” This bothered me. So, after class, I asked the teacher for help. But all she said was, “That’s OK, he was just playing.” From there, I had nowhere to go. She was at the top of the food chain.

In 1990, before they met, my mother and father came over the border from Mexico. My mom’s parents weren’t making enough profit from their cattle ranch, so they had little choice but to immigrate. My mom came with them to the United States and worked at a restaurant so she could send money back home. My father followed his older brother here because he wanted to start a new life. Little did he know he would one day cross paths with my mother and eventually start a family.

But my classmate was “just playing” when he insulted all of this. I wish my teacher had done something else.

If I’d been the teacher, I would’ve taken a different approach and worked to understand why we were acting and responding the way we were. Maybe the other student and I could’ve found common ground. But, unfortunately, we never had a chance to try.

Up until ninth grade, I had zero male teachers of color. I didn’t feel like I had anyone to ask for support when things like the fifth-grade incident happened. Many of us students felt that way — and that’s why I want to be a teacher, a fifth-grade teacher in particular. I want to make my culture an asset in the classroom and be a teacher students feel comfortable confiding in, no matter their background.

A teacher’s perspective: Cut from the same cloth: Why it matters that black male teachers like me aren’t alone in our schools

In middle school, I started seeing more male educators, but they were all white. Then, when it came time for me to start high school, I ended up going to school in a different neighborhood — an hour commute away—and things finally changed for me. Since starting high school, I’ve had six male teachers of color, and it’s made a huge difference.

My high school makes a big deal out of the whole “building relationships” thing. To my teachers and everyone else at the school, relationships are just as important as academics. At first, it was hard to get used to, but eventually it started making sense to me. I’m in an all-male mentorship group led by two African-American men who openly share about their struggles growing up in New York, and give us advice in any area of life — including what it means to appreciate our cultures. This is one of the things I like most about my school.

It’s hard to explain the way it feels to have a teacher who looks like you; they’re like older brothers who become a huge part of our lives, even if it’s just for four years. They make it easier to connect and socialize and help me feel more like I belong. To me, learning from someone who reflects who you are is one of the best things a student can experience.

Near the end of the school year, my mentorship group did an activity where we took turns getting asked questions by other students and staff. One of the mentors asked me, “What’s it like being Mexican American and how has your background influenced your goals?” No one had ever asked me that before, and it took a long time for me to process the question.

After a few moments, I spoke a bit about my family’s story and shared some of the stereotypes I had encountered and how they affect me today. Everyone was so supportive, and the mentors encouraged me to continue breaking stereotypes and defining myself rather than letting others define me.

It was nerve-wracking at first, telling my story in that group, but after three years of high school, we’d developed that level of trust. It was the first time I’d shared my story with that many people at once, but it felt intimate and very different from the time in fifth grade when that kid tried to tell my story for me.

Finally having teachers that look like me has made a huge difference. They don’t just mentor me and help me with my academics, they also make my goal of becoming a teacher seem more realistic.

Having men of color I can look up to and model myself after is a big part of why I have no doubt I’ll make it to college — and eventually be able to give other kids the type of help my mentors have given me. I know where I’m needed, and that’s where I’m headed.

Jose Romero is a senior at EPIC High School North in Queens, New York. This piece originally appeared on the blog of TNTP, a national nonprofit and advocacy group that trains new teachers.

First Person

A Queens teacher on Charlottesville: ‘It can’t just be teachers of color’ offering lessons on race

PHOTO: Bob Mical/Creative Commons

In a few short weeks, school will resume in New York and I’m already thinking about how we are going to address racism within the four walls of my classroom. I’m thinking about what texts, historical and current, we can read and films and documentaries we can watch to support dialogue, questioning, and solutions for combatting that ugly, pervasive thread in the fabric of our country’s patchwork quilt called racism.

Last year we read “Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass,” a former slave turned abolitionist, and juxtaposed its reading with a viewing of Ava DuVernay’s documentary “13th,” which discusses modern-day slavery in the guise of mass incarceration. Students asked questions of the documentary as they watched it and discussed those queries within their groups and with the class at large afterwards.

We do our children and ourselves a disservice when we don’t have these difficult conversations as a part of our collective curriculums. However, many teachers from various walks of life are neither well-versed nor fully comfortable discussing race on any level with their students. Not talking about racism won’t make it go away. If anything, not talking about racism in the classroom further perpetuates racist ideologies that are, at their root, born out of ignorance. Education’s goal is to dispel ignorance and replace it with truth.

With that being said, just how many teachers feel equipped to facilitate lessons that touch heavily upon race in the classroom? Not nearly enough.

According to Teaching Tolerance, “The dialogue about race should start in the classroom — the teacher-prep classroom, that is. Preservice teachers should be exploring multiculturalism and discussing ways to honor diversity in their future classrooms.”

But often, Hilton Kelly, a professor of education at Davidson College in North Carolina told the site, the coursework isn’t giving future teachers the training they need to talk about race. “Even when future teachers take courses on diversity and multiculturalism,” Kelly said, “those courses don’t take the critical approach to race that future teachers truly need.”

“Food, folklore and festivals are not the same as an analysis of race in America,” Kelly argued.

But an analysis of race in America is exactly what needs to happen. Furthermore, it can’t just be teachers of color solely facilitating such lessons in their classrooms.

I don’t want to write about the events going on in Virginia. I don’t want to think about it. I’m so tired of the hatred and I long for peace, but I can’t very well in good conscience remain silent. That would be akin to protesting with those hate-mongers in Virginia last weekend. I can’t just write about back-to-school shopping, lesson planning, and business-as-usual while my brothers and sisters in Virginia are being murdered in cold blood by white supremacist American Nazis.

Are the children of Virginia safe? Are our children anywhere safe? What can I do to make a difference within the hearts and minds of the children whom I teach? If education is our best vehicle for bringing about change — which it is— how am I going to infuse the lessons I teach with critical thinking and analysis about racism in the United States for the seventh-graders entrusted in my care? How are other educators planning to address these events with their students at every grade-level?

I pose these questions to all who are reading. Whether you are a teacher, a student, a parent, an administrator, or a community member, I plead with you to work together to create answers that work toward healthy conversations and hands-on action in the fight against racism.

Vivett Dukes is a teacher at Queens Collegiate: A College Board School. A version of this post first appeared on New York School Talk