The Commonwealth Foundation likes to pretend that they can manipulate and fool educators, but the reality is that they are well aware of the organization and their efforts to bust unions. This anti-union and billionaire-funded front group has consistently advocated for policies that defund public schools and make it harder for educators to advocate for higher pay and benefits for the classroom. In fact, the Commonwealth Foundation was so unsuccessful in pulling off this scheme, that they went to the trouble of setting up a separate front group called Americans For Fair Treatment to target teachers with misleading and inaccurate information about their unions. And when that front group was exposed, they rebranded as Free To Teach. Spoiler alert, we’ve got their number on that one too. 

Free To Teach started as a project of the Commonwealth Foundation in 2012 with a blog from Matt Brouillette. Originally described as a “forum” for teachers, the anti-union front group largely failed in their endeavors. Turns out teachers don’t actually want to talk to the Commonwealth Foundation. While the brand remained dormant over the last few years, it was quickly repurposed to the public as a new organization after the Janus V. AFSCME decision. 

Since then, Free To Teach has been harassing teachers with spam emails and misleading mailers about unions. It is now described by its leadership as a project of Americans For Fair Treatment whose board contains most notably individuals from the Koch-funded State Policy Network including the Devos-funded Mackinac Center and Commonwealth Foundation CEO Charles Mitchell. It is run by Keith Williams. 

Mr. Williams has been publicly described as both “recently retired” and having “quit” his job as an English teacher in Adams County. In 2018, he ditched his students in the classroom to instead work full-time for union-busting organizations to ensure that current and future teachers don’t reap the rewards of good union contracts. Of course, Mr. Williams gladly took the benefits of the union when he was a teacher and is entitled to pension payments from the state. And now that he has a cushy job with these Koch-funded groups, he wants to make sure other teachers don’t get the same benefits he enjoyed. 

While the Commonwealth Foundation works to hide these connections, Mr. Williams has ties to the organization dating back at least 5 years. In that way, he is similar to Mark Janus who went on to work for the same billionaire-funded front group that bankrolled the Janus V. AFSCME case after being represented by them. He now also spends his time suing Pennsylvania unions.

In addition to Mr. Williams’ ties to the Commonwealth Foundation, he has an extensive history advocating against teachers. Mr. Williams has publicly compared teacher unions to “war machines.” He lobbies against worker rights while still wrongly describing himself as “speaking on behalf of my fellow public-sector employees across the Commonwealth.”

Whether its emails from Free To Teach or letters mailed to teachers from Mr. Williams, Pennsylvania educators are rejecting the continued harassment from these billionaire-funded front groups. In fact, teachers throughout Pennsylvania are so adamant about rejecting these unwanted advancements, they’re posting pictures of the mailers labeled “return to sender,” encouraging each other to throw them in the trash, and publicly warning when their school district is being targeted

By all accounts, these front-groups have been a complete failure. If you work in the education profession and have info on these union-busting efforts, send it through our tipline!