The Kansas Legislature agreed to pay education nonprofit Teach For America more than $500,000 this year for a pilot program to recruit 12 teachers to the state.
But the national organization only recruited three teachers for the state in 2018. All of them were placed in Kansas City, Kansas, where the local school district pays their salaries and benefits on top of another $3,000 per teacher per year to Teach For America.
Meanwhile, the state is still on the hook to pay the nonprofit $270,000 for training and recruiting teachers with no guarantee they will work in Kansas schools.
Mischel Miller, director of teacher licensure and accreditation at the Kansas State Department of Education, said the contract was intended to help fill a teacher shortage in the state.
“Our intention,” Miller said in an interview, “is that those dollars would be used for Kansas teachers.”
Yet the Kansas City, Kansas school district says it only hired three Teach For America instructors this year. Two other recruits started teaching in the district last year before Kansas hired the organization.
The state education department says Teach For America told the department it recruited all five of those teachers this year. The department is currently drafting a $270,000 contract to pay the organization.
A budget document from the Kansas Legislative Research Department dated Oct. 10 states, “Teachers will be paid a salary of $36,000.” But that money actually goes just to recruiting, training and placing each teacher.
That totals $180,000 from the state for recruiting five teachers, plus $80,000 to pay for the salary, benefits and travel expenses of a recruiter and $10,000 for one day of professional development. The rest of the money appropriated during the legislative session, totaling $250,000, will go back to the state’s general fund to be appropriated for the next fiscal year.
Such funding arrangements with the group are common across the country. Tax filings show that Teach For America received $45.2 million in government grants in fiscal year 2016, about 16.6 percent of its revenue. States such as Texas, Arkansas and Missouri have also appropriated education funds for the nonprofit.
At a meeting of the Legislative Budget Committee on Wednesday in Topeka, state lawmakers expressed disappointment in the low number of recruits and the fact that the program only placed teachers in the far eastern corner of Kansas.
“That’s the best they can do so far?” asked committee chair Sen. Carolyn McGinn, who represents a district in south-central Kansas. “I don’t recall during that appropriation process that we said, ‘Just stay in the Kansas City area.’”
In an interview, Teach For America Kansas City executive director Chris Rosson said the organization had originally presented its pilot as an extension of its program in Kansas City, Missouri, “with the opportunity for us to explore the possibility of looking westward, but with clearly no direct promises.”
Rosson said his organization planned to encourage teachers to become more familiar with other parts of Kansas. Events like an alumni reunion in Lawrence and a trip to western Kansas are scheduled for upcoming months.
But the money hasn’t been allocated yet, and will not come out of the training and recruiting budget that the state has agreed to pay this year.
“We’re eager to do those things to try to support the work that’s happening in the state of Kansas,” Rosson said. “But we are also a (nonprofit group) that has to be very deliberate about and intentional about how we are allocating our resources.”
Rosson said the vast majority of Kansas City metro placements had ended up on the Missouri side because Kansas City, Kansas Public Schools took longer to hire Teach For America recruits than Missouri schools.
A KCKPS employee confirmed that the process was slow because the district needed to make sure Teach For America candidates met a state requirement of being enrolled in a master’s degree program.
Other parts of the state’s agreement with Teach For America drew questions from lawmakers at the Legislative Budget Committee meeting on Wednesday, including the $80,000 allocated for a full-time national Teach For America recruiter based in Lawrence.
State Sen. Rick Billinger expressed skepticism about a one-day professional development program in Topeka with a price tag of $10,000.
“I’d personally like to see a little breakdown on that,” Billinger said. “It just looks kind of out of line.”
Rosson said this year’s training has not yet taken place, but the budget request was based on the cost of doing the training in previous years. The event entails busing 120 Kansas City Teach For America corps members, the vast majority of whom teach in Missouri, for a tour of the Brown v. Board of Education National Historic Site. Other costs include food and a speaker who leads “cultural responsive teaching and instruction,” according to a document provided by the state education department.
Rosson said he hoped the event would increase interest in teaching in Kansas after the Teach For America placements are completed.
“It’s typically a very powerful experience to have that type of content delivered in a place that has that level of historical significance,” he said.
Rosson said there were 13 Teach For America alumni currently working in Kansas — nine working as teachers and four working in school leadership positions.
Teach For America’s Lawrence-based recruiter, he said, is the first in the state. He said the recruiter is responsible for attracting applicants for Kansas, but also for the organization’s nationwide pool of potential teachers, who then rank which areas in which they’d like to be placed.
He said he wasn’t sure, but it’s possible that the Lawrence recruiter may have recruited Kansas applicants who were then assigned to schools outside of the state.
“Somebody who is from Sacramento and is going to Wichita State may choose that really what they want to do is go back to California and teach,” he said.
According to data from the state education department, there were 612 vacant teaching positions in Kansas schools this fall. Many were concentrated in the state’s population centers of Wichita and Kansas City, but schools in rural western Kansas also struggled to find qualified teachers.
At the Capitol on Wednesday, Rep. Steven Johnson said he had hoped the amount of money allocated for Teach For America would lead to more hires.
“The five teachers, I think, we’re excited about — just disappointed we don’t have more,” he said. “That ratio just doesn’t feel very good as we look at results.”
Nomin Ujiyediin is a reporter for the Kansas News Service, a collaboration of KCUR, Kansas Public Radio, KMUW and High Plains Public Radio covering health, education and politics. You can reach her on Twitter @NominUJ.
Kansas News Service stories and photos may be republished at no cost with proper attribution and a link to ksnewsservice.org.