The American Federation of Teachers ended a five-year relationship with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation after rank-and-file union members expressed deep distrust of the foundation's approach to education reform. AFT President Randi Weingarten told Morning Education the union will no longer accept Gates money for its Innovation Fund, which was founded in 2009 and has received up to $1 million a year in Gates grants ever since. The Innovation Fund has sponsored AFT efforts to help teachers implement the Common Core standards - a Gates priority - among other initiatives.
Weingarten said she didn't believe Gates funding influenced the Innovation Fund's direction, but still had to sever the relationship. "I got convinced by the level of distrust I was seeing - not simply on Twitter, but in listening to members and local leaders - that it was important to find a way to replace Gates funding," she said. Weingarten plans to ask members to vote this summer on a dues hike of 5 cents per month, which she said would raise $500,000 a year for the Innovation Fund.
The Innovation Fund isn't the only AFT initiative funded by the Gates Foundation. Since 2010, the union has received more than $10 million. The AFT's executive council hasn't formally voted to reject Gates funding for other projects, but Weingarten said she would be very cautious about taking such grants. "I don't want to say 'never never ever ever,'" she said, but "this is a matter of making common bond with our members and really listening to the level of distrust they have in the philanthropies and the people on high who are not listening to them."
Vicki Phillips, who runs the Gates Foundation's education division, said her team is "disappointed by Randi's decision." She called the AFT "an important thought partner" for the foundation. "We continue to applaud the work of the Innovation Fund grantees to engage teachers in improving teaching and learning in their local communities," Phillips said.