At Department of Ed It’s Concierge Service for Unions, Closed Door for Parents

At Department of Ed It’s Concierge Service for Unions, Closed Door for Parents

  • February 28, 2023
Records reveal teachers’ unions drive the ED bus while parents and students take a back seat

Today, federal watchdog Protect the Public’s Trust announced findings from a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit demonstrating the vastly inequitable treatment afforded parents and teachers unions by the U.S. Department of Education (ED). ED, whose effort to engage the parents and family members of public school students was “immediately and permanently” disbanded, had no problem providing concierge-like service to labor union lobbyists, according to documents obtained by PPT. In fact, Education Secretary Miguel Cardona had regularly scheduled monthly calls with union leaders.

The documents revealed that Montserrat Garibay, Senior Advisor for Labor Relations, Office of the Secretary, and Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary, was in constant contact with lobbyists for AFL-CIO affiliate member union the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) and the National Education Association (NEA), which has a Labor Partnership Agreement with the AFL-CIO. Ms. Garibay served as Secretary-Treasurer of the Texas AFL-CIO immediately prior to joining the Biden Administration. Earlier documents obtained via this same FOIA lawsuit exposed the contacts between ED Deputy Chief of Staff Donna Harris-Aikens and the NEA, her former employer, which were the subject of an Inspector General complaint by PPT.

In addition to the monthly meetings Secretary Cardona held with AFT President Randi Weingarten and NEA President Becky Pringle, Garibay held weekly “check-in” calls, two calls per week for a time, with AFT lobbyist Beth Antunez and with NEA lobbyist Daaiyah Bilal-Threats. In addition to these scheduled calls, the FOIA documents show almost daily contact, by both phone and email, between Ms. Garibay and AFT and NEA lobbyists. The relationship was so close, it appears an AFT official was helping introduce ED staff to each other. The documents released thus far reveal hundreds of pages of conversations between Ms. Garibay and the NEA and AFT lobbyists during just the first several months of the Administration.

ED’s concierge service included fielding regular requests from union officials regarding student loan forgiveness, Covid policy, school visits by Secretary Cardona, and higher education plans contained in Biden Administration legislative proposals. Possibly aware of the insider access of the unions, other institutions and organizations employed them as conduits to funnel information to the Department.

One unintentionally ironic conversation revealed the negative impact of the unions’ influence on school reopening guidance in early 2021 that made it more difficult for schools to bring students back to classes. In response to a request from Ms. Garibay for a list of “recommendations of school districts that have been reopening successfully in the past two months specially in small/mid- size districts, towns and rural areas, etc.,” the NEA’s Alexis Holmes includes Delran Township School District in New Jersey. Delran, as Holmes described, was “as open as they can be and are ready to fully open as soon as CDC guidance gives the word.”

At one point, Ms. Garibay assisted in planning a Zoom call for the Secretary with the United Teachers of Los Angeles (UTLA). The UTLA infamously demanded in 2020, according to a contemporary report,

Los Angeles Unified District schools effectively cannot reopen unless certain conditions are met: privately operated publicly funded charter schools are shut down, police are defunded, Medicare-for-All government-run health care is passed, a statewide wealth tax is implemented, housing for homeless is fully funded, “financial Support for Undocumented Students and Families.”

Interestingly, the original document is no longer available on the UTLA website.

“These documents reveal what everyone already knew, that the teachers’ unions are driving the Department of Education bus,” said Michael Chamberlain, Director of Protect the Public’s Trust. “While the unions could not have received better access had they had an office in the building, the Department completely botched an attempt to create a parent advisory group. The sad reality is that parents may be spending more time discussing education policy with FBI agents monitoring their discussions at school board meetings than with the Department of Education.”