The “Alabama Teacher Shortage Task Force” recently reported to the state school board.  No doubt the 18 members of this group spent a lot of time on this project.  They presented a number of good ideas.  Things such as providing incentives for certified teachers to work in high need areas; streamlining the state’s certification process; creating an apprenticeship program; revisiting the state retirement plan for teachers;  and expanding teacher mentoring program.

But I did a double take when I saw that one of the suggestions was, Support the continued growth of Teach for America in Alabama as one pipeline to recruit the best and the brightest to become teachers in hard-to-staff districts.

Few could argue with the concept of Teach for America when it was launched in 1990.  Basically it was the Peace Corps for struggling school systems.  They would recruit bright college students to be teachers, give them a dab of training and then send them off to work for two years in places like inner-city and rural schools where attracting good teachers is difficult.

TFA came to Alabama in 2011 billed as “salvation” for Black Belt schools.  The legislature gave them $630,000 that year and they placed 32 teachers in six Black Belt school systems.  These were Hale, Marengo, Sumter, Lowndes, and Perry counties and Selma city.  The next year Butler and Greene counties joined.

In 2012 we had 53 TFA teachers in eight Black Belt.school systems.  But that was the high water mark and last year there were only 19 TFA teachers in west Alabama.  Most of the Black Belt systems working with TFA have dropped by the wayside with only Perry and Hale counties and Selma city remaining..  Of the 57 TFA teachers in Alabama last year, only 19 were in the Black Belt.  Birmingham had 35.

Yet we continue to increase their annual appropriation from the Education Trust Fund.  We have now given them $6 million from ETF.  The current budget gives them $747,000

What is the this money from the state used for?  I have never been able to find out.  Several years ago there was a joint meeting of the House and Senate education finance committees.  I was there.  A nice young lady with Alabama TFA tried to explain how they worked and what the state was getting for its money.  Her presentation left more questions than answers.

Here’s how the program basically works:  Each system using TFA pays from $3,000 to $5,000 per teacher annually for “training.”  They also pay their salary.  But since most of these teachers only hang around for two years, one has to question the wisdom of paying up to $10,000 to train a temporary worker who will soon be gone.

And we should also consider that the IRS 990 form for the national Teach For America organization for 2016 (the most current available) shows the national organization had $420 million in assets and the CEO was making $462,830 a year.  And they need money from the State of Alabama?

The teacher shortage is real, especially in the Black Belt.  This is why I’ve been involved in the Black Belt Teacher Corps at the University of West Alabama where they are growing their own teachers..  However, these students grew up in the region and plan to stick around much longer than two years.

The question I would like answered is how many of the TFA teachers who were placed in our schools are still teaching?  I suspect the answer is very few.  So are we just putting a few band aides on a problem that needs long term attention?  And paying dearly to do so?

I think we could get a lot more bang for our buck than we are getting with Teach For America.  Return on investment would be much greater by spending $6 million on programs like the Black Belt Teacher Corps.

$6 million