Teach for America is a powerful organization. It has collected hundreds of millions of dollars in the past few years. One of its most recent IRS forms showed $300 million in assets. Its board of directors includes some of the nation’s biggest corporate and media leaders.
Yet TFA is considered a charity, and many corporate funders ask you to make gifts to it, as if were the Red Cross or a homeless shelter.
Barbara Torre Veltri, a professor of education at Arizona State, has trained many TFA recruits. She wrote a book about it, called “Learning on Other People’s Kids: Becoming a Teach for America Teacher.” She wrote the following commentary for this blog:
“It’s that time of year––the annual upsurge of buying and giving. Corporations are poised for both giving and receiving as they elect to support particular charities and encourage the public, their clients, and employees to join them. Teach For America has mastered the art of philanthropic fundraising and is deemed as one of the “charities” of choice of numerous consumer-based corporations.
Recently a colleague at a southeastern university shared that Subaru is donating money from their car sales to the “charity” Teach for America, http://www.subaru.com/share-the-love.html, and today, J.Crew sent an email blast to its customers.
“By promoting TFA as a charitable organization to its consumers, corporations obscure significant facts from an unsuspecting public, such as TFA teachers’ two-year teaching turnaround, five week training, and 80% who leaving the teaching profession after year three.
Amanda, a 24 year-old teacher questioned the direct solicitation for TFA during her trip to the mall in Glendale, Arizona.
“I was taken by surprise when the J.C. Penney’s sales woman at the Arrowhead Mall asked if I want to contribute to the charity of the month: Teach For America. Here I am, working full time, taking classes at night for two years to be a teacher, and what is JC Penney doing? Soliciting funds for TFA? They are using my profession, and me, a future teacher, to get money from people who think that they are supporting teachers, but don’t know that TFA prepares its teachers in five weeks, ” (personal conversation, September 23, 2012).
While Teach For America does not represent all teachers, that fact is not shared with the public when corporations or supporters seek donations. When solicitation for TFA comes in the form of pressure from corporate sponsors, full disclosure seems better left hidden. An eighty-year old client of Wachovia Securities/Wells Fargo Advisors received a solicitation from then-President and CEO, Daniel J. Ludeman.
“For each survey received, we will make a donation to your choice of one of the following charities: American Red Cross, Teach For America or the National Council On Aging. Please mail back your survey by July 13.”
“Why would donations be solicited by Wells Fargo for Teach For America? Since when is teaching some kind of charity? This letter bothers me because it is demeaning to real teachers. Who is collecting funds for them? By sending this letter out to its clients, Wells Fargo sends a message to seniors [citizens] who value education, that teaching with Teach For America is something that we should donate to because they are educating poor children” (cited in Veltri, 2010, p. 177).
Teach For America promotes their charitiable status by encouraging tax deductible donations by donors who are told that they will ‘support corps members’:
“As a sponsor, you will also join a unique group of results-oriented philanthropists who have the opportunity to contribute to the impact of our corps members and alumni. Garrett Boone, Chairman Emeritus and Co-founder of The Container Store, is a champion of Teach For America,”
During this season of giving and gifting, perhaps consumers would be curious to know that their own money is directed to the 501c3 charity, Teach For America. Perhaps educated consumers might choose to redirect their purchasing, based upon the knowledge of which corporations financially support Teach For America. The list below includes corporations who solict funds from customers, donate millions of dollars to TFA, and/or whose CEO’s serve on TFA’s national or regional boards of directors.
AT & T
The Container Store
De Vry University
U of Phoenix
Weather Channel Companies
[Banks & Financial Services]
Bank of America
Harris Bank (CHI)
JP Morgan Chase
M & T Bank (BAL)
Mechanics Cooperative Bank (MA)
Credit Suisse Americas
P & C Bank (BAL)
Sun Trust Bank
[Health Insurance Providers]
Blue Cross & Blue Shield (AZ)
Aetna (CT) GE Healthcare (CHI)
Kaiser Permanente (Pacific NW, CO, OH, GA)
San Francisco Giants
[Oil – Houston]
Teach For America’s Business Plan outlines it’s 2015 goal: Each region will be fully sustainable (TFA, 2010-2015). This prioritizes continuous fund-raising:
“On Friday, March 1st, Teach For America – Phoenix hosted its annual “Building a Community of Champions,” highlighting the role of Teach For America as one piece in the movement to reform education in Arizona. Key gifts were received from Blue Cross Blue Shield of Arizona, Apollo Group/University of Phoenix, Kitchell Corporation, and Nita and Phil Francis to make the dinner possible. The celebration grossed nearly $500,000 for the region.”
The questions persist: Why is Teach For America considered a charity? Why is ‘teaching’ poor children of color considered a tax deduction, as long as TFA corps members are the teachers? And why are government leaders shy about examining pervasive concerns about TFA and realizing that there is something more here than a feel good ‘charity’ directed at educational reform for poor children of color.
“A gift of $5,000 or more helps us recruit, select, train, and support a teacher who will help his or her students succeed at the highest levels and work to help ensure that all students, no matter where they are born, get an outstanding education. As a sponsor, you will also join a unique group of results-oriented philanthropists who have the opportunity to contribute to the impact of our corps members and alumni.” (www.teachforamerica.org/supportus).
Families of teachers, supporters of teachers, teachers themselves, and those of us who can remember their most inspirational teacher or coach, might consider how to engage the collective power of the purse(s) to support the profession of teachers. Teaching is not a charity, a tax deduction or community service. Our children are not promotional commodities, to be held up at fundraisers as the emotional hook to garner donations. I do not purchase goods or services from the companies above.