Despite Limited Success, Teach For America Seeks More Funding From Kansas

Feb 13, 2019
Originally published on February 13, 2019 5:27 am

After recruiting only three teachers in Kansas last year, nonprofit Teach For America is asking lawmakers for a quarter of a million dollars to continue working for the state.

In 2018, legislators appropriated $520,000 for Teach For America to recruit 12 teachers.

In a contract finalized in December, the state education department agreed to pay the nonprofit $270,000 for those three teachers in the Kansas City, Kansas, school district, as well as two placed in the district in the fall of 2017. The remaining $250,000 returned to the state’s general fund to be distributed for the next year.

The school district paid the teachers’ salaries and benefits, as well as an additional $3,000 per teacher to Teach For America.

Now, the nonprofit wants more state funding. In two presentations to state lawmakers on Tuesday, employees of Teach For America Kansas City requested $262,000 for the fiscal year beginning in July 2019.  The funds would go toward recruiting 10 teachers at a cost of $18,000 each and maintaining a Lawrence-based recruiter whose salaries, benefits and travel expenses cost $80,000 a year.

The funding would go entirely to training and recruiting teachers — not salaries or benefits.

Teach For America Kansas City executive Chris Rosson said he hoped to expand last year’s pilot program in Kansas. He wants the group’s presence in Kansas to eventually equal its influence in Missouri, where Teach For America has placed more than 100 teachers this school year. 

“Teach For America has served as a critical talent partner,” Rosson said, “for … the state of Missouri over the past decade.”

At the Capitol on Tuesday, members of the state Senate and the House of Representatives expressed skepticism that the proposed contract could be worth its price tag.

“The question that I have is, why don’t we just give that to teachers?” asked state Sen. Larry Alley. “It seems like it’d be better off spent for the teachers.”

State Sen. Carolyn McGinn, chair of the Senate Ways and Means Committee, expressed concern that the program would not recruit teachers for rural school districts facing teacher shortages.

“The reason for doing this,” she said, “was to get them into those towns.”

Her counterpart in the House Appropriations Committee, Rep. Troy Waymaster, also asked about potential rural placements.

In response to Waymaster, Rosson said that filling teacher positions in urban areas would indirectly address teacher shortages in rural areas. 

“By helping alleviate some of the teacher shortage problems that happen in KCK,” he said, “it does alleviate some pressure on the rural districts, which sometimes lose teachers to the urban school districts.”

One reason for not yet expanding to rural Kansas districts, Rosson said, is that the mentors assigned to Teach For America teachers would have more difficulty traveling between schools that are farther apart.

“We have a dedicated coach that is literally is going from school to school, all day every day, and coaching teachers,” he said. “As we get into a rural environment, that becomes a little bit cumbersome.”

Rosson said the organization wants to build on its relationship with the school district in Kansas City, Kansas, where five teachers are currently placed — three in the first year of a two-year commitment to the program, two in their second year.

“In the short term, we are still focused very much on that KCK boundary,” he said. “They are the primary partner, and we’re by no means meeting their teacher shortage.”

Kansas City, Kansas, Public Schools did not return multiple requests for comment.

About 500 Teach For America alumni work in the Kansas City area, Rosson said.  Sixty-five percent of alumni have continued teaching.  About 30 percent work in related jobs such as school administration, coaching and support.

Rosson expects Kansans recruited by Teach For America’s Lawrence-based recruiter to eventually return to the state, even if they aren’t placed in Kansas schools. 

“Some of those folks that they’ve been actively working with and recruiting, we may not see in the corps member program for some time,” Rosson said.  “They will cycle their way back to the state and contribute in meaningful ways.”

Rosson declined to comment to the Kansas News Service.  Repeated attempts to reach the national and Kansas City offices of Teach For America did not receive a response. 

In her proposed budget for fiscal year 2020, Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly recommended against funding the program for another year.

In an email, a spokeswoman said the administration decided “the Teach for America program was not an efficient use of state funds.”

Deputy Education Commissioner Dale Dennis said the state department of education would follow whatever the Legislature decides — but his agency recommends against renewing the funding because it had hoped to get more teachers out of the program.

“They couldn’t get very many people signed up,” he said in a phone interview.  “We thought, based on the appropriation, it would be larger.”

Nomin Ujiyediin is a reporter for the Kansas News Service, a collaboration of KCUR, Kansas Public Radio, KMUW and High Plains Public Radio covering health, education and politics. You can reach her on Twitter @NominUJ.

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