Nationwide and here at University, members of the class of 2010 applied to Teach for America in record numbers — more than 46,000 applicants for this fall’s class of 4,350 teacher corps members. Here at Michigan, 461 seniors applied — a remarkable 7.4 percent of the senior class. This continues the strong relationship between TFA and the University. For the last four years, the University has been the top contributor to TFA.
But in spite of all of this interest, Teach for America is facing a funding crisis.
Under a new proposal currently before Congress, TFA’s federal funding for 2011-2012 would be eliminated. This is a deeply troubling proposal that would dim admissions prospects for University seniors and derail the organization’s long-term goal of ending educational inequality.
Due to its strong track record of providing quality teachers and leaders, TFA has received federal funding for years. This year, TFA requested $50 million from Congress to meet increasing demand among college students and communities.
Without federal funding, TFA would be unable to hire the more than 1,350 teachers who would teach 86,000 students in the coming school year. This scenario severely limits opportunities for recent graduates at the University and other schools to make a difference in our public schools.
The proposed federal funding cuts come at a critical time for TFA’s expansion. For the last several months, TFA representatives have been meeting with Detroit’s top leaders and charter schools in hopes of bringing at least 50 corps members to Detroit schools by next fall. Without secure federal funding, TFA faces yet another hurdle in this planned expansion into Detroit. It would be disheartening to see another year go by without TFA corps members in Detroit, further delaying the opportunity for University students to give back to the state of Michigan.
The need for TFA corps members in Detroit could not be more real. The average ACT score for a student in Detroit Public Schools is a 16, with a graduation rate under 50 percent. This reality is not confined to Detroit. Nationally, more than 14 million children living in low-income communities are performing below grade level on standardized tests, and are falling further behind their more affluent peers each year. Fifty percent of students in low-income communities will not graduate from high school by the time they are 18 years old. Those who do graduate on time perform, on average, at an eighth-grade level. We need programs like TFA to increase educational opportunity in our public schools.
With an annual $50 million appropriation from Congress, TFA would be able to double in size over the next five years. At this scale, the organization would be able to provide nearly 17,000 corps member positions each year and reach more than one million underserved students in nearly all 50 states. And by 2016, TFA will have more than 50,000 alumni who will create a powerful leadership force for meaningful and bold education reform.
As college students, we can make our voices heard to Congress on today’s most urgent civil rights issue: education. As students at the University we have so much at stake. A smaller TFA corps will mean fewer jobs for University graduates, and school districts just 30 minutes away will continue to struggle to succeed in the face of the achievement gap. I hope you’ll join me in a grassroots campaign to call and write U.S. Senators Carl Levin and Debbie Stabenow to urge them to support federal funding for TFA.
Dana Cronyn is an LSA senior and a campus campaign coordinator for Teach For America.