Virginia Democratic gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe took $25,000 from the American Federation of Teachers in April as the union's leader defended teaching the controversial 1619 Project in classrooms.
McAuliffe accepted the contribution just days before AFT president Randi Weingarten praised the New York Times feature as a "factual version of oppression in America" targeted by "people who have no idea what [critical race theory] means." Weingarten again defended the project during a May Fox News appearance, saying she has "not arrived" at the conclusion that its findings are historically inaccurate—despite objections from prominent historians over the project's numerous "factual errors."
McAuliffe's deep ties to the union—he's received $175,000 from the AFT since 2013—could prove to be a vulnerability as growing numbers of Virginia parents bristle at the union's embrace of controversial critical race theory programs while resisting in-person schooling. In Loudoun County, a group of parents are attempting to recall school board members for pushing critical race theory after the district shelled out more than $400,000 in taxpayer funds to conduct diversity training and establish an "equity plan."
McAuliffe, who has yet to discuss critical race theory on the campaign trail, has also remained mum on reopening schools before Weingarten gave a May speech in favor of offering in-person learning for five days a week in the fall. Less than two weeks after the speech, McAuliffe offered tacit support for reopening schools and called for $2 billion in spending to "raise teacher pay and address inequities head on."
The Democrat months earlier sent a campaign flyer touting provisions to improve access to virtual learning, even though he would not take office until 2022. McAuliffe did not comment on Democratic governor Ralph Northam's February decision to open schools in the spring, which came as Weingarten and other union leaders pushed for teachers to receive priority access to vaccines in order to reopen schools.
Neither McAuliffe nor the AFT returned a request for comment.
The union partnered with the Pulitzer Center in February to "explore a selection of essays in The 1619 Project" with founder Nikole Hannah-Jones and Weingarten. The union leader pledged to get the "invaluable and nuanced lesson plans about the 1619 Project directly to educators" and pushed back against efforts across the country to exclude the curriculum from schools.
"There's nothing unpatriotic about a cleareyed view of our nation's past," Weingarten said. "The country has to see its history in all of its manifestations and that history cannot be whitewashed.… The 1619 Project forces those who do not want to see, to see."
Historians' objections to the project focused on Hannah-Jones's assertion that American revolutionaries were primarily driven by a desire to defend slavery as an institution. The Times issued a lengthy clarification after the claim "sparked a great deal of online debate" but resisted demands from five historians to retract all of the project's "errors and distortions."
McAuliffe is considered the frontrunner in the state's June primary. The winner will face Republican nominee and businessman Glenn Youngkin in November.