AFT President Could Receive Over $200k in Teacher Pension Benefits Despite Meeting No Qualifications

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AP Photo/Mark Lennihan

Despite just three years of full-time classroom instruction, a new analysis from the Freedom Foundation suggests that president of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) Randi Weingarten could receive hundreds of thousands of dollars in taxpayer-funded pension benefits after her retirement.

According to the AFT, Weingarten taught history at Brooklyn’s Clara Barton High School from 1991 to 1997. This record, however, has been disputed. In 1998, Weingarten’s opponent in the election for the United Federation of Teachers (UFT) presidency told the New York Times that Weingarten was not a “real teacher,” alleging that “she worked five months full time that I’ve been aware of, in 1992, at Clara Barton High School. Since then, she taught maybe one class for 40 minutes a day.” A 2011 report from the Education Action Group argued that Weingarten only taught as a substitute, never a certified, full-time instructor.

An analysis of Weingarten’s personnel file by the Freedom Foundation suggests that, at most, the AFT president was a part-time substitute from September 1991 through August 1994, and a “regularly appointed” teacher from September 1993 until the spring of 1997. While the meaning of “regularly appointed” instructor is unclear, a 1997 letter from the Board of Education identifies Weingarten’s “failure to complete full preparation requirements for licensure,” resulting in a threat to terminate Weingarten’s regular license at the start of the 1997-1998 school year.

Even if Weingarten taught full-time for three years, she would not have met the five-year teaching requirement for taxpayer-funded pension benefits provided by the City of New York’s Teacher’s Retirement System. According to the collective bargaining agreement between UFT and the New York City School District Board of Education, employees who “are officers of the Union or who are appointed to its staff” are allowed a leave of absence without pay to fulfill their union responsibilities. Weingarten’s own leave of absence began in 1997 after her election to the office of UFT treasurer. She has been “on leave” ever since, for 26 years.

Regardless of spending no additional time in the classroom, Weingarten continued to accrue service credit toward taxpayer-funded teacher pension plan requirements in the City of New York. According to documents obtained by the Freedom Foundation, Weingarten has been credited with 15 years, five months, and seven days’ worth of service credit in the Tier IV pension plan, dramatically increasing her pension benefits. Despite working only three years as a full-time teacher, the Freedom Foundation estimates Weingarten is now eligible to receive at least $15,300 per year, which would cost taxpayers more than $230,000 dollars, not including annual cost-of-living adjustments, if Weingarten collects the pension for 15 years.

By taking membership dues from public school teacher paychecks, Weingarten’s annual paycheck from the AFT is already more than seven times the salary of an average high school teacher. Each year, Weingarten receives more than $50,000 for “retirement and other deferred compensation” alone.

In recent years, Weingarten’s rhetoric has become increasingly political, from pushing left-wing ideology into the classroom to calling for a 2024 endorsement of Joe Biden despite objections from a quarter of AFT’s membership. Each year, the AFT solidifies this political commitment by spending hundreds of millions of dollars on left-wing causes and candidates.

Given such partisanship, taxpayer dollars should fund public interests, not the retirement benefits of political activists like Randi Weingarten. New York City should consider reinvesting the near quarter of a million dollars that would supplement Weingarten’s already hefty salary toward a failing public school system. The future of American students is a far more valuable investment than a union president who has proven time and time again her prioritization of politics over families, education, and teachers.

Maddie Dermon is a research and policy analyst at the Freedom Foundation.

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