Barbara Veltri: TFA Is Still Feeding at the Trough

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Barbara Veltri is a teacher educator at Arizona State University. She has mentored TFA corps members, and she wrote a book about TFA.

In this essay, she notes that Doug Ducey, Republican Governor of Arizona and a favorite of Charles Joch, is an avid supporter of Trump, school choice, and TFA.

She writes:

Tara Kini, wrote, “We’re hearing a lot of conflicting scenarios and projections related to the teacher workforce come fall. On the one hand, there is a fear of massive layoffs precipitated by the Cov-19 recession and state budget cuts. On the other, there are projections of staffing shortages and state budget cuts. (June 25, 2020).

We have been here before.

In 2012, The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities found that in fiscal year 2013, 35 states were spending less than they did during the recession. Since 2009, more than 200,000 teacher jobs vanished and in spite of teacher movements, states were still not back to pre-recession spending levels of a decade ago, which prompted national Teachers’ Movements and voter initiative to support K-12 teachers.

According to NEA job survey data from my state, Arizona teachers’ starting salaries at $30,404 in 2010 ranked 35th in the nation. Then, even veteran teachers in hard-to-staff assignments, such as special education faced reduced-in-force measures, while novice teachers without focused special needs training, were hired. Then, Arizona paid finder’s fees for Teach For America Teachers of more than 1.5 million dollars (noted on IRS Form 990 over the years 2010-2013).

And now, amid the rising temperatures and Cov-19 numbers, Governor Doug Ducey, who served on Teach For America’s Regional Board of Directors, announced in the Arizona Education Grant on Wednesday, “$500,000 for Teach For America to provide tutoring to students needing extra help.”

This when Wallet Hub (2019) ranked Arizona’s pupil-to-teacher ratio, the worst in the nation.

This when Arizona educators earn less than peers in 48 other states, yet pivoted immediately to prepare, present, and teach to support their students.

The Governor’s Education Grant also includes $700,000 for leadership and $1million for micro grants, that leave open too many questions as to just who will benefit from these funds.

Policies minimized educators in a state that has prioritized and legislated millions of dollars in funding directed towards Teach For America, over the last two decades, with friends in high places. In 2016, Wendy Kopp the founder of TFA was the commencement speaker at Arizona State University.

The Dean of The College of Education serves as a TFA Regional Board Member member. Ms. Kopp addressed the Arizona Legislature and Arizona Chamber of Commerce who overwhelmingly support her initiatives and corps member teachers.

The education non-profit reported:
$1,329,197 on lobbying (TFA IRS 990, 2019) ‘for direct contact with legislators, their staffs, government officials or a legislative body,” (Schedule C, IRS Form 990, 2017, pg. 3);
$45, 222, 433 in government grants (IRS 990, 2016, Part VII, p. 9);
$11, 255, 064 in Publicly Traded Securities/Non-Cash Contributions (IRS 990, 2017, line 9 p. 94) and $9,259 in crypto currency (Average sale price, line, 28).

The non-profit reports, “Program Service Revenue,” in the amount of $23, 415, 992 (Form 990, 2017, line 2A):

“Teach for America has contractual agreements with various school districts across the United States of America to recruit, select, train, and place corps members to teach within their school districts. Teach for America recognizes revenue related to these contractual agreement as earned, that is when the corps member is placed.”

These ‘program service fees’ are ‘finders’ fees’ that schools and districts pay to TFA (up front and in full), even if novice corps members leave their placement any time prior to their two-year commitment. And, Districts pay each TFA corps member’s salary and benefits.

Annie E. posed the question eight years ago, in a May 8, 2012 blog post, “So, is TFA’s mission still about education? If it is, then why take money from huge foundations and corporations whose missions are clearly not about education?”

But there’s more to this….

In a recent interview with CNBC, Merck CEO, Kenneth Frazier shared how he had the opportunity, as a black youth in Philadelphia’s inner city, to “change his life trajectory.”
He boarded a bus and rode 30 miles to the suburbs where he received a rigorous opportunity to learn from lifelong teachers and interact with peers who lived in middle-class and affluent professional neighborhoods.

A lightbulb went on for me at that moment.

As someone who researched, met, mentored and learned from TFA teachers and their students, I recognized that instead of the opportunity for schooling to change his life’s trajectory, corporations, lobbyists, universities, media, philanthropists and policymakers (who I term The CLUMPP Network) opted instead to jointly support, through financing, marketing, in-kind donations (i.e. office space), in-state tuition, and even taxpayer funded AmeriCorps stipends, a Caucasian, female’s undergraduate sociologist thesis in 1989 that she reworked with diligence, focus, and good intent.

The education initiatives that supported black and brown children moving out of high-poverty community schools, as Mr. Frazier experienced, instead brought in, recent college grads who knew nothing about education, weren’t trained, might’ve been idealistic, didn’t stay, uprooted veterans’ local knowledge of the community, but kept poor children of color, exactly where corporations and policymakers wanted them – in schools that were underfunded, with scripted teaching, constant assessments, police presence in schools, no frills curriculum, limited resources for arts, music, sports and, not removed from the realities of systemic poverty.

I chronicled my ethnographer’s notes from their teaching field, over consecutive years.
Then, in the middle of all of financial and environmental crisis when teachers lost jobs, not only was TFA hired, but Arizona, Mississippi, Louisiana, Texas, and others (as noted on TFA tax returns) paid millions of dollars each in finder’s fees to bring TFA novices in (and out) over multiple years – while the kids, and their communities were effected by innovation.

It didn’t matter which tag line: One Day All Children, No Child Left Behind, Race to the Top, or Every Child Succeeds – the trajectory for poor kids, no matter how many competitions or standardized tests, didn’t match the learning that Kenneth Frazier experienced.

And the reason is this – unlike the educational policies of the 60s that transported a young Kenneth Frazier, from his Philly inner city neighborhood to the suburbs, where he notes that he received a quality education that “paved the way for my admittance to Penn State University (undergraduate degree) and then Harvard law school,” three decades of young people who just happened to be born poor, black or brown, were/are recipients of another social experiment that not only made segregation popular, but profitable – charter schools.

Policies kept poor children of color localized in their communities as suburban communities, fell back on residency requirements and real estate pricing to maintain an us vs. them mindset.

In Stamford, Connecticut my kids were transported, by bus, to a public elementary magnet school, surrounded by “the projects.” The arts and critical thinking curriculum and admissions policy: 50% majority/50% minority; 50% male/ 50% female (with siblings automatically accepted) was supported by community buy-in and integrated schools. The by-product – from a young age, kids learn from and befriend kids from different religions, ethnicities, social class, and race.

So what happened?

From 1990-2020 we saw a systemic attempt to control who gets to be schooled where and by whom. And with limited opportunity for kids to interact, learn, befriend and grow up with children other than themselves, in public schools, the system promotes and finances policies that separate us and keep kids living and learning, within limited societal structures and neighborhoods by bringing in young outsiders and paying for that service.

Over the last two decades, policies embraced by both sides of the political spectrum, advanced homeschooling, tax credits for religious schools, charter schools, encouraged a police presence within low-income schools and limited financial opportunities for programs that benefitted my kids, and Merck CEO Frazier.

The result: The alignment of the “CLUMPP” network of which, TFA was/remains the cog in the wheel that moves and advances an agenda that is predetermined and particularized to keep poor children of color from leaving where they were born, to be schooled in the suburbs.

To taxpayers, teachers and parents across the other 40 U.S. states whose Governors are appropriating pandemic education support dollars…. Examine the funding and think Teachers, not TFA.

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