Teach for America Seeks Help Promoting Itself on Capitol Hill
Teach for America (TFA) is a nonprofit organization founded in 1991 by Princeton graduate and noneducator, Wendy Kopp. TFA was granted nonprofit status in June 1993. According to its 2013 990, TFA’s end-of-year total assets were $494 million, with $73.5 million of its 2013 revenue designated as “government grants” and $31.6 million of its 2013 revenue earmarked as “service fees revenue.”
Interestingly, TFA’s 2013 990 also includes $4.7 million tagged as “bad debt expense” as part of its total functional expenses.
For eight hours of work per week, TFA chair Wendy Kopp drew a 2013 salary of $176,657. Co-CEOs Matt Kramer and Elisa Villanueva Beard drew salaries of $381,946 for 42 hrs/wk (Kramer) and $342,134 for 40 hrs/wk (Beard).
TFA began as a Peace Corps-like temp agency that sends college graduates outside of the field of teaching into classrooms for usually two years. However, by 2001, TFA had established a second goal: To move former TFA corps members into positions of influence in education, business, and politics in order to solidify and expand TFA’s influence over public education.
Louisiana is an excellent case of TFA in action. The current state superintendent, John White, was in TFA in a New Jersey classroom teaching English for a couple of years. He eventually became TFA executive director of the Chicago area; did a stint as an assistant superintendent in New York under Joel Klein, and then moved on to cosmetically become superintendent of the New Orleans Recovery School District (RSD) before being politically placed into the position of Louisiana state superintendent.
(In this May 2011 nola.com article reporter Andrew Vanacore writes that three days after becoming RSD superintendent, White– who had zero school administration experience– was already being considered for state superintendent.)
In January 2012, with the help of Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal and former Chiefs for Change leader, Jeb Bush, White did indeed become Louisiana state superintendent. Moreover, in March 2013, White took over as leader of Chiefs for Change so that Jeb! could run for president.
One of White’s key aims is to expand the TFA presence in Louisiana, and especially in RSD. To this end, he and his corporate-reform-backing state board majority– one of whom (Kira Orange-Jones) is also the current TFA executive director of Louisiana– have approved TFA contracts that pay TFA as much as $9000 per TFA recruit.
TFA “service fees revenue.”
TFA really needs those temp fees. After all, it takes almost a million dollars a year to just pay Kopp, Kramer and Beard for their combined 90 hrs/wk ($900,737), and they are not the only TFA board members pulling a salary. Eight others work 40 or 41 hrs/wk and have salaries ranging from $190,638 to $282,759.
If you have any concerns about these TFA execs possibly not being able to collect their for-the-children salaries based via TFA temp fees, you could always send them more cash via the “donate” button on the TFA home page.
But TFA has other needs, as well. Consider, for instance, the need for TFA to establish its presence on Capitol Hill. Now, according to its 2013 tax form, TFA only spent $595,870 on lobbying that year. However, if TFA pays interns to gain experience on Capitol Hill, it isn’t really lobbying– it’s just putting talented TFA alumni to work:
The Capitol Hill Fellows Program is a year-long program that places a group of Teach For America alumni in full-time, paid congressional staff positions on Capitol Hill. These positions offer Fellows incredible insights into the legislative process and an opportunity to gain experience in policy and politics at the national level.
The Capitol Hill Fellowship provides:
- One-year placement with a member of the House or Senate or a congressional committee.
- Monthly professional development sessions and mentorship opportunities to enhance the skills necessary for alumni to grow as policy leaders.
- Exceptional networking opportunities.
- A stipend of $60,000; paid over 12 months; Fellows also may coordinate one work trip to a member’s home district or state.
The Fellows do not lobby on behalf of Teach For America or work on issues related to Teach For America during this Fellowship, but instead work on issues assigned by a member of Congress or congressional committee in Washington, D.C. Each cohort reflects the diversity of the country, with Fellows from many states and both political parties.
The Capitol Hill Fellowship consists of four major components: legislative experience, professional development, mentorship, and networking opportunities:
- Legislative Experience. Fellows gain incredible insights into the legislative process, the opportunity to gain experience in national policy and politics, and a chance to contribute important voices and perspectives to policy debates in Washington, D.C.
- Professional Development. Fellows attend monthly professional development sessions to enhance the skills necessary for alumni to grow as policy leaders. Sessions are conducted by policy experts and cover an array of topics, ranging from the federal budget to student loan policy.
- Mentorship. Fellows are matched with a Teach For America alumni mentor on Capitol Hill.
- Networking Opportunities. Fellows will build relationships with members of Congress and congressional staff.
In summer 2015, approximately fifteen Capitol Hill Fellows will begin work in Washington, D.C. Fellows will work full-time for one year in a House or Senate office or serve on the staff of a congressional committee. Fellows are provided with a $60,000 annual stipend, which is a very competitive salary for Capitol Hill staff.
Fellows have the potential to:
- Conduct legislative research, draft language for bills, and track legislation.
- Support the legislative process by preparing background reports, organizing hearings, arranging for expert testimony, and serving as policy liaisons between Congress and federal agencies.
- Respond to constituent questions, handle administration, provide Capitol tours for constituents, and promote the agenda of their m embers.
Please note that Teach For America does not provide housing, health insurance, or other employee benefits for Fellows. Housing in Washington, D.C. and other benefits are the responsibility of the Fellow. Fellows are not considered employees of Teach For America.
So. TFA isn’t aiming to influence the legislative process by paying interns to become an interwoven part of life on the Hill?
In fact, TFA has an established presence on the Hill, even if it must recruit someone outside of its own Capitol Hill-stationed TFA alumni. On its website under “careers,” TFA notes that it is looking for “seasoned professionals” to fill certain positions, one of which is Director, Government Affairs (Washington, DC):
|Requisition:||Director, Government Affairs (Washington, DC)|
Of course TFA wants to promote itself on the Hill, which entails promoting annual testing and school takeover– tools used by TFA to justify its expensive, temp-turnstile, foot-in-the-door in school districts nationwide. This TFA did in July 2015 in supporting the Murphy amendment to the Senate ESEA rewrite. The Murphy amendment aimed to retain some of that No Child Left Behind (NCLB) federal control over what constitutes a school “in need of intervention” by mandating states to designate the bottom five percent of schools as failures and in essence, set up state-run districts formed of such schools. (By the way, the Murphy amendment did not pass.)
In the past, TFA has had one of its own alumni fill the director of government affairs position. TFA Executive Director of St. Louis, Brittany Packnett, started in TFA with two years in the classroom in DC; became a “school operations manager” for five months, then moved on to legislative assistant for 13 months before becoming TFA’s director of government affairs for 27 months.
Packnett did not have the three years experience on the Hill that TFA is now requiring. Moreover, when it comes to sticking recent college graduates in front of children, TFA has never asked for three years of experience.
Three years of teaching experience is more classroom time than TFA alumi like White and Packnett chalked up before continuing in their (real) TFA-induced power careers.
It seems that talent alone might not be enough for what really matters to TFA– promoting itself.
Schneider is a southern Louisiana native, career teacher, trained researcher, and author of the ed reform whistle blower, A Chronicle of Echoes: Who’s Who In the Implosion of American Public Education.
She also has a second book, Common Core Dilemma: Who Owns Our Schools?, newly published on June 12, 2015.