Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey, right, speaks with Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction Diane Douglas, left, after the governor signed the American Civics Act into law during a bill signing ceremony at the Capitol, Tuesday, Feb. 24, 2015, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

There’s an unlikely Teach For America controversy erupting in Arizona over whether or not the organization should accept state funding in Arizona. Here’s what’s happening:

* The Arizona legislature just passed a new budget, and the Teach For America organization in Phoenix just won a $500,000 annual appropriation for the next three years — even while public education funding was cut elsewhere.

–Nearly $100 million was cut from the state university systems.
–State funding for community colleges was wiped out.
–While the budget increases dollars for the K-12 budget, inflation and enrollment growth will actually result in a loss of nearly $100 million, critics say, according to the Phoenix New Times.

* TFA Phoenix has not received any state funding for the past two years, the organization says. But something is different now: Arizona’s new governor, Doug Ducey, who was sworn into office in January, is a former regional board member for Teach For America.

* Dozens of TFA alumni, corp members and former staff members wrote a letter (see full document below) to Lindsay DeFrancisco, executive director of Teach For America – Phoenix, urging her not to accept the money when public education is severely underfunded in the state. The letter, sent last week before the Arizona budget was passed with the TFA appropriation, says in part:

At a time when the governor of Arizona is unfairly asking schools across the state to “tighten their belts,” and at a time when educators and advocates across the state are raising their voices in opposition to yet another round of devastating cuts, we politely ask your organization to do the same. As a concerned group of Corps Members, alumni, and former staff members, we have written this letter to respectfully ask you to turn down the funding earmarked for Teach For America as written in the most current state budget proposal.

There is a massive contradiction that exists when an organization that claims to work for the education of all children is part of a process that robs Peter to pay Paul…. To think that our organization would receive any funding at all from the state in this context seems inconsistent with Teach For America’s core values and our individual and collective work towards improving public education in Arizona, even if the funding is intended to expand the presence of Teach For America. We can not support Teach For America’s growth in the context of everything that is shrinking: budgets, funding sources, support for public education, and, ultimately, opportunities for children. Even with more corps members, or more support staff for corps members, children will struggle when they don’t have a library, access to a guidance counselor, or the ability to keep up with skyrocketing tuition costs.

* DeFrancisco told a small group of alumni who met with her last week that she would not refuse the money, and invited some to meet with her again to discuss the situation. (Her response is below).

The money from the Arizona legislature is not used to pay salaries for TFA salaries but, rather, to aid in recruiting and support, the New Times said.

Here’s the letter that TFA alumni sent to DeFrancisco. Forty-seven TFA alumni originally signed this letter. Below this letter is DeFrancisco’s response.

And here’s the text of the response from DeFrancisco, executive director of Teach For America – Phoenix:

Dear Teach For America – Phoenix Alumni,

As you likely know, Arizona’s state budget passed on Saturday morning after an overnight session. This has been a challenging session for education. We hugely value the bipartisan support that has made Teach For America’s work in low-income communities possible over the last 20 years, and we also know that our state has a long way to go to ensure that all children can thrive. We know that the work of many of our alumni, corps members and school and university partners will be impacted and are committed to further supporting them and engaging with lawmakers, teachers, parents, students, district leadership and community voices to ensure that Arizona’s students have the educational opportunities they deserve.

We are extremely grateful that we have received a $500,000 appropriation in the state budget this year. We do not take this appropriation lightly, and after two years without support from the state and a decreasing budget that has affected our ability to meet the needs of our longstanding partners in Phoenix, this appropriation is critical to our organization. This investment will go directly towards our ability to bring teachers to Phoenix as we strive to meet the needs of our partner schools and to bring leaders for our community who believe in our children and will work for educational equity.

Last week, we reached out to many of our school partners and other organizations in the education community, and we plan to continue this in the days ahead so that we can work together and do everything we can to support one another. We’d welcome the opportunity to dialogue with our corps members and alumni and are creating a space this Wednesday from 5:30-7:00pm at the Teach For America office for anyone who is interested in coming together….

Thanks for everything you’re doing each day in partnership with our students, schools and community. We have a lot of work ahead but believe deeply in a future when all of our students will have access to an excellent education.

With appreciation,

Lindsay DeFrancisco
Executive Director
Teach For America – Phoenix

(Clarification: An earlier version included names on the letter to TFA. They have been removed at the request of some of the signatories.)