Why Minnesota governor vetoed Teach For America funding

Gov. Mark Dayton ( By MPR Photo/Nikki Tundel)
Gov. Mark Dayton ( By MPR Photo/Nikki Tundel)

Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton just vetoed a line item inserted into the state’s higher education legislation that would have given $1.5 million to Teach For America over two years. This is what he said in an explanatory letter to the legislature:

Teach for America (TFA) is a well-established, national program with revenues totaling $270 million for fiscal Year 2011 (its most recent annual report). With total  expenses of $219 million, TFA’s net assets increased by over  $50 million and now total over $350 million. With those financial resources available, it is not clear why a $1.5 million grant from the State of Minnesota is required to continue or expand the organization’s work here.

That’s a good question, and it should be put to the states that support the program; there are or soon will be about 15, the Star Tribune reported.

Dayton was a teacher and social worker before he entered politics, so it may be that he has some insight into why so many teachers and education activists object to Teach For America’s approach. This is how TFA works: It hires new college graduates, gives them five weeks of training in a summer institute and then places them into some of America’s neediest schools on the assumption that you just have to be smart to teach. What TFA is not actually looking for are people who want to be teachers, but rather, people who will have “important” jobs later in life who can advocate for public education. That’s why TFA recruits are asked to give only a two-year commitment to teaching.

Dayton also said in the letter explaining the veto on the TFA line item:

 My principal concern, however, is the way in which TFA was selected as the recipient of this grant. To my knowledge, no competitive grant program was established; no other applications were solicited; and  no objective review was made by an independent panel of experts. Instead, the funds were inserted into the Senate’s Higher Education bill, directed to this organization, and retained in the Conference Committee’s report.

 

Teach For America spends a lot of money lobbying legislators — including some in the U.S. Congress — for money and friendly regulations, such as one that allows student teachers to be declared “highly qualified” to meet the requirements of the federal No Child Left Behind law.

Every other governor should read Dayton’s letter.

 

Valerie Strauss covers education and runs The Answer Sheet blog.
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Valerie Strauss · May 24, 2013