AFT innovation grants support educators across the country

The AFT announced a new round of Innovation Grants Feb. 7, totaling nearly $500,000 in funds distributed to support educators, students and communities. The grants bring the union’s total Innovation Fund commitment to $1.6 million since the start of the pandemic.

AFT President Randi Weingarten at a podium talking about the Innovation Fund

Many of this round’s 14 selected projects tackle the teacher shortage that is straining the profession and leaving thousands of children without permanent, certified teachers; the grants fund pathways to teaching for aspiring educators who could stem the gap, and address teacher retention with collaboration and professional learning opportunities. There are also grants that aid community schools, with programs like on-site child care and reading programs that connect students to adults in their communities.

“We want every public school to be a place where parents want to send their kids, educators want to teach and kids thrive,” said AFT President Randi Weingarten. “We know teachers do everything in their power to make this a reality for all kids. These grants will help them put their ideas into action; recruit and retain educators; access professional learning opportunities; and improve well-being, working conditions and workforce shortages.”  

Weingarten made the announcement with union leaders in Tallahassee, Fla., where educators are facing legislation that limits the way they can teach. Led by Gov. Ron DeSantis, this “culture war” has targeted the way teachers can present content about race and gender, affecting crucial learning around Black history, and chilling efforts to maintain freedom of expression among students as well as school staff. Many educators are fearful they will lose their jobs if they continue to teach a curriculum they feel best addresses students’ needs.

“Our help stands in stark contrast to the assault on teachers and public schools from some politicians, who are driving educators out of the classroom through incendiary and unhelpful rhetoric and punitive laws that hurt students and educators,” said Weingarten. Florida Education Association President Andrew Spar said there are nearly 10,000 vacancies across the state, “robbing hundreds of thousands of students of the education they deserve and need.”

“The politics of division have no place in our public schools,” said Spar. “Public schools are the place where we come together, where we work as a community to ensure that every child has a safe place to learn, to be themselves and to be a kid. That’s what public education has always been about, and that’s what it must always be about.”

Two of the Innovation Fund grants are going to Florida affiliates. The Leon Classroom Teachers Association will expand leadership training and engage early career teachers; LCTA President Scott Mazur was at the announcement, along with Leon County Superintendent Rocky Hanna, who has been supportive of the union’s advocacy. The Pinellas Classroom Teachers Association will work with local colleges and educator preparation programs to address education workforce shortages.

AFT Secretary-Treasurer Fedrick Ingram described the 14 new Innovation Fund projects, thanking the educators on hand for the “great courage, great spirit and great hope” they demonstrated by pursuing and supporting the program. “The times are challenging, but our folks are continuing to do the magic in our classrooms to change lives every day.”

Below is the list of grantees, which will share in $473,000 in total support from the AFT. These grants bring the total number of Innovation Fund grants since the beginning of the pandemic to 57.

  • Baltimore Teachers Union (Maryland) will identify a cohort of middle school students and help them explore career options and interests. This will allow the students to make more-informed decisions about selecting a high school with areas of study that match their interests.
  • BOCES Educators of Eastern Suffolk (New York) will support students who attend their career and technical education academies with out-of-pocket expenses for materials and equipment to complete their courses.
  • Buckeye Local Education Association (Ohio) will support a literacy program called the Confetti Project to match students with reading interests and pair them with adult volunteers.
  • Cory-Rawson Education Association (Ohio) is expanding its community schools initiative by establishing a new partnership with the YMCA to offer and expand on-site early child care for families in need. This will improve kindergarten readiness and provide a pipeline for recruiting and retaining early childhood staff.
  • Education Minnesota will link its aspiring educators program with its early career program to strengthen recruitment and retention efforts for education careers.
  • Faculty Association of Jefferson Community College (New York) will host a business and leadership symposium. This event will educate, inspire, and connect high school and college students with pathways to career and technical education and entrepreneurship.
  • Fort Edward Teachers Association (New York) will strengthen CTE in its school district by upgrading its machine tooling capabilities and training its educators and students to match local industry demands.
  • Leon Classroom Teachers Association (Florida) will expand its leadership training and shared decision-making models in three schools to improve teaching and learning and engage teachers during their early career.
  • New Haven Federation of Teachers (Connecticut) will create and expand opportunities for educators to collaborate with and support new educators. This will include professional learning sessions designed to improve well-being.
  • Newtown Federation of Teachers (Connecticut) will help fund the Newtown High School Greenery program. This garden program supplies food for the CTE culinary program and serves as an agricultural laboratory for students.
  • Pinellas Classroom Teachers Association (Florida) will partner with the AFT, Pinellas County Schools, local colleges of education and educator preparation programs, community groups, families, and students to improve working conditions and address education workforce shortages.
  • Texas AFT will create and expand an educator apprenticeship and training program to directly address teacher shortages.
  • West Genesee Substitute Teachers Association (New York) will create and offer professional learning for substitute educators in classroom management, social and emotional learning, special education, safety and classroom technology. The association will also offer courses in content areas for substitutes to deepen their teaching skills.
  • Yonkers Federation of Teachers (New York) will expand its Take a Look at Teaching/Grow Your Own program. This program is a pipeline into the teaching profession for the diverse body of Yonkers students that offers introductory teacher education seminars, college credit-bearing education certification classes, and clinical experiences through classroom internships.