I’ve spent a lot of time focusing on state budgets over the past few weeks on this blog. That’s because despite questions about student test scores, teacher evaluations, poverty, or the litany of other issues that land on the education spectrum, we will always return to the almighty dollar. In Michigan and Pennsylvania, tax cuts for businesses have meant less dollars for schools. This has lead to approximately ten percent of school districts to face some form of deficit this school year. In Wisconsin, the ongoing discussion about vouchers for private schools is inevitably linked to the fact that more vouchers will mean less dollars for local school districts. This is on top of the fact that urban districts continue to shrink because families either enroll in a different school or move altogether. Every year they have to do more with less. The budget picture isn’t getting rosy in the near future. This means there will be hot-button issues for the foreseeable future.
Today’s hot-button issue? A budget provision to provide Teach For America $1 million over 2 years. Nationally, this issue isn’t new, nor is $500,000 a year a lot of money within the Wisconsin budget. But it does make me scratch my head and ask if that money could be sent into classrooms or be put toward a more universal effort.
When TFA’s Founder Wendy Kopp began working on her legendary Princeton thesis over 20 years ago, she initially wanted to propose a national teacher corps. Today, while we’re arguing over vouchers for private schools and the release of their data, questioning the quality of our education schools, and handing $500,000 of state funds to TFA for recruitment efforts, we should be focused on making our current schools better.
First and foremost, I believe we do this by fully funding and supporting our public school systems rather than privatizing our neighborhood schools.
Second, I think we need to partner with education schools as well as programs like TFA and TNTP to develop state-run teacher corps programs. If we know that we have an abysmal teacher retention rate for both TFA and traditional school teachers in cities like Milwaukee, then let’s do a better job on the state level to identify people interested in education, combine the teachings of our education schools with the practices of TFA, pay for it so new teachers don’t struggle to pay their debt, and get these teachers to commit to a 2 to 5 year teaching career and ideally a life dedicated to the field of education.
It’s ambitious and requires fighting factions to come together. Plus, it will cost much more than $500,000. But in a year that will feature many gubernatorial races across the Midwest, I’d like to see any prospective “education governor” propose this program.