No one can argue with the original concept of Teach for America. More than 20 years ago, Wendy Kopp, fresh out of Princeton, came up with the notion that was basically the Peace Corps for poor urban and rural schools. Recruit some really bright, eager new college grads and send them on a two-year “mission” to help struggling schools and their students.
But along the way TFA morphed into a cash cow and Kopp built an empire worth hundreds of millions of dollars. For example, the national TFA office shows net assets of $470 million on their last (2013) IRS 990 form and nearly two years ago their top ten employees in this office had an average salary of $286,118.
(TFA teachers are recent college grads who may, or may not, have studied to work in education. They get five weeks of training in the summer before being deployed. They agree to teach for two years.)
Five years ago, Alabama joined the list of contributors to TFA with a line item in the Education Trust Fund of $630,000. In all we’ve now given them $2.8 million, with another $500,000 in the budget now being debated in Montgomery. Yet not a single soul in the legislature can make a rational argument for why the money is there.
No one can tell you what it is used for. It is NOT USED to pay TFA teachers because they are paid by the local system they work for (which also pays an annual fee of $2,000-$5,000 to TFA for “training.”)
Apparently it is used to run their state office. But the website for Alabama TFA shows they receive a minimum of $916,000 yearly from corporate donors and foundations, in addition to whatever the state gives them.
The first thing a TFA supporter says is the program is to help the Black Belt. but the facts do not support this. Of 118 TFA teachers in Alabama currently, only 20 percent (24) of them are in Black Belt school systems, while there are 45 in Huntsville.
Here are comments from a Black Belt superintendent with TFA teachers–
I am not a fan. We have to pay their teacher salaries plus the stipend. We have had mixed results with some rock stars and some that we fired mid-year. I only used two last year out of desperation. They are temporary by design but we need to keep the rock stars and not one has stayed. I can’t imagine what that much state funding is used for
One clue as to what the money is used for can be found it this article on AL.com. Seems that TFA will hold a party on May 27 to celebrate five years in Alabama. This event will be held in Birmingham at The Club, one of the oldest and most exclusive private social clubs in the state.
So principal Debbie Deavours in Berry is worried that she missed her fund-raising goal at field day by $1,100, but our legislature can find $500,000 to help defray the expenses of a fancy party.
Maybe Debbie could take some of her students to the party where they could hold signs saying, “Mister, could you spare a dime?”