Powerful Partnerships Institute: Fortifying communities with funding and support

The AFT has launched a new program to continue building and fortifying strong partnerships with parents and communities, supporting the work that state and local unions do with community partners in communities across the country. Called the Powerful Partnerships Institute, the initiative is distributing 27 separate grants to AFT locals, totaling more than $1.5 million, strengthening and formalizing relationships that are critical to student success, and giving educators, parents and the entire school community more opportunities to work together on the things kids need—whether that’s academic, social, emotional or something even broader.

PPI grant winners with officers

“Our kids do better, our communities do better, when we work together,” said AFT President Randi Weingarten at a Sept. 29 press conference announcing the initiative. “The AFT has been working with parents as long as we’ve been a union. But we wanted to have more intention about this. We are intentionally supporting family and community engagement in a sustainable, long-term, ongoing way. And we’re putting our money where our mouth is.”

The PPI is not only giving out grants of $25,000 to $75,000, it is offering support and networking resources with organizing tools and mentoring, trainings and other guidance as needed. Through the interconnectedness of schools and neighborhoods, the grants will reach about 1 million people, and will include K-12 teachers and school staff, higher education employees, public employees and the communities they serve.

Many will cover the simplest expenses, like organizing and funding a meeting that includes food for families who are squeezing that meeting into the end of a busy workday, money to start a new campaign that requires fliers and handouts to get off the ground, or staff to help do the work that volunteers have struggled to complete in their off-hours.

“I’m very happy and proud that the AFT is helping us link our community to our classrooms,” says Terrence Martin, Detroit Federation of Teachers president and an AFT vice president, adding that DFT has worked with community organizations for years, fighting shoulder to shoulder against school closings and for more school funding. “What this grant does for us is really strengthen and solidify that work for the future.”

PPI grant winner Arlyssa Heard
Arlyssa Heard

“I believe that oppressive systems are activated and gain superpowers when we’re divided,” says Arlyssa Heard, a leader of 482Forward and of the Michigan Education Justice Coalition, longtime community partners with the DFT. “That’s why I think this partnership is critical, because when we align and fight together, we win together.” The DFT, 482Forward and MEJC will work to direct pandemic relief funding to support families and students, and will expand awareness and influence with school board candidate trainings and informational forums.

Other examples of grant recipients include:

  • The Montana Federation of Public Employees and Montanans Organized for Education will use the funds to reach out to public education-supporting Montanan families and educators who want to protect their schools from expected attacks in school board meetings and in the state Legislature.
  • The Houston Federation of Teachers will work with Community Voices for Public Education, a parent-led organization, to involve more community members in organizing for the things they say they need most, from equitable school funding to more and different opportunities for parent involvement, protection from over-testing and support for teaching honest history. Meanwhile the Houston Educational Support Personnel is partnering with the Urban League, Legends and Legacies Houston, the Sunnyside Housing Development Network and other community organizations to develop local leadership to improve neighborhoods where school staff, students and families live.
PPI grant winners Amanda Curtis and Moffie Funk
Amanda Curtis and Moffie Funk
  • The New Haven Federation of Teachers in New Haven, Conn., will work to engage educators, families and students with Recovery for All Connecticut to advocate for progressive revenue and equitable school funding for New Haven and other deeply underfunded Connecticut districts.
  • The Peoria Federation of Teachers in Peoria, Ill., will build from the ongoing parent and community coalition work of the Peoria People’s Project, which advocates for equitable school funding and social-emotional health in schools.

You can find a complete list of grant winners here.

In each of these places, across the 17 states, the PPI aims to:

  • Build capacity by giving AFT affiliates more time, tools and resources to do the community work that they want to do and that they know works—whether that’s going door to door, organizing weekly meetings, or running local campaigns or initiatives designed specifically to engage parents and community members on an issue that affects their kids and their communities.
  • Provide training and resources to meet AFT affiliates and community where they are so they can reach mutually identified campaign goals.
  • Increase collaboration among AFT affiliates and community organizations to share best practices in tackling tough campaign issues and create solutions together.
  • Build ties with others to form stronger coalitions to better the lives of our communities.

Several of the grant recipients met together for the PPI launch and shared the values that inspire them. Their guideposts? Collaborate. Take risks. Remember everyone has something to offer. Don’t undersell yourself: You are never just a parent or just a PSRP.

AFT Secretary-Treasurer Fedrick Ingram praised the group for their work, noting that each person involved in the project goes “way more than” the extra mile for their students and their communities. “Every one of you has put together a program that will strengthen our kids, strengthen our schools and strengthen our community,” he said. “And that is what we do as a union.”

“When we invest in the most creative ideas our affiliates have come up with to bring communities together on behalf of their children, we are demonstrating the deepest truth of the union movement,” said AFT Executive Vice President Evelyn DeJesus. “That together we can accomplish so much more than we ever could have achieved on our own.”

[Virginia Myers and AFT communications staff]