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Guest: Teach for America at risk of losing federal funds

BY RICKY RIDGWAY - GUEST OPINION | APRIL 15, 2010 7:30 AM

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Nationwide, and here at the University of Iowa, members of the class of 2010 applied to Teach for America in record numbers — more than 46,000 applicants for this fall’s incoming class of teacher-corps members. As a former campus campaign coordinator for Teach for America here at Iowa and a 2010 Teach for America corps member, I’m especially excited that 98 Hawkeyes applied from the UI alone. That’s why I’m troubled by a new federal budget proposal that would dim future admissions prospects for college seniors and derail the organization’s long-term goal of ending educational inequality.

Because of its strong track record of providing high-quality teachers and leaders, Teach for America has received federal funding for the past 10 years. This year, Teach for America requested $50 million from Congress to meet demand among college students and communities. However, under a new proposal before Congress, Teach for America’s federal funding for 2011-12 would be eliminated.

Without federal funding, Teach for America would be unable to hire more than 1,350 teachers who would reach 86,000 students in the 2011-12 school year. This scenario severely limits opportunities for recent graduates at the UI and other universities to make a difference in our public schools.

The proposed federal funding cuts come at a time when our nation’s public schools need reform more than ever. 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 lower-income communities will not graduate from high school by the time they’re 18. Those who do graduate on time perform, on average, at an eighth-grade level. We need programs such as Teach for America to bring about increase educational opportunity in our public schools.

A growing body of independent research demonstrates the positive effect Teach for America corps members have on student achievement. A 2008 Urban Institute study found that students of Teach for America corps members scored higher on standardized tests, on average, than students of regular teachers. Because of this track record of success, there is a long waiting list of communities nationwide that want to hire Teach for America corps members.

With an annual $50 million appropriation from Congress, Teach for America 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 1 million underserved students in nearly all 50 states. And by 2016, Teach for America would have more than 50,000 alumni, who would 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. If Congress fully funds Teach for America, more children will be equipped with the high-quality educational opportunities they deserve. I hope you’ll join me in a grass-roots campaign to call and write Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, and Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa. You can get involved by e-mailing or calling Harkin and Grassley to encourage them to support a $50 million direct allocation to Teach for America for fiscal 2011.

Ricky Ridgway is a 2009 graduate of the UI, a former campus campaign coordinator for Teach for America, and a 2010 Teach for America member who will teach science in Kansas City in the fall.


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