Wisconsin Budget Includes $1 Million Taxpayer Giveaway for Well-Funded Teach for America

Wisconsin's 2013-2015 biennial budget sits on Governor Walker's desk awaiting his signature. Included in the budget is a provision allocating $1 million in taxpayer funds over the next two years to the controversial education organization Teach for America.

Teach for America is a non-profit whose stated mission is to "eliminate educational inequity by enlisting high-achieving recent college graduates and professionals to teach," but the organization is backed by a number of right-wing interests that have bankrolled the conservative push to privatize, voucherize, and generally dismantle free and universal public education in America.

The program places young college graduates in two-year teaching positions at underserved schools in mostly poor, urban communities. What is not to love? Quite a few things, say education experts. The program's teachers go through a five-week summer training program, which critics say is inadequate preparation for teaching particularly for the poverty-stricken and underperforming classrooms in which they are usually placed. Others consider it a thinly disguised effort to chip away at teacher training requirements, family supporting wages and unionization.

"Teach for America is a wealthy organization that sends ill-trained recruits to teach in under-resourced districts," explains Diane Ravitch, a prominent education policy analyst, who wrote about the Wisconsin budget provision on her blog. "These poorly trained young people, with no experience as teachers and no commitment to stay beyond two years, are expected to work wonders. They don't."

Teach for America Bankrolled by Foundations Pushing Anti-Union, For-Profit Education Model

Teach for America receives money from a slew of corporations and foundations, active in the conservative "school reform" movement. In 2011 the Walton Family Foundation (founders of the anti-union, low-wage, few-benefits Wal-Mart model of doing business) announced a massive $49.5 million grant to Teach for America, "half of the Walton Family Foundation grant will go towards growing that teaching corps to 15,000 by 2015."

The Walton Family Foundation focuses its giving on education, supporting efforts that promote school privatization and attack teachers' unions. The Walton Family Foundation has been involved in promoting the American Legislative Exchange Council's education agenda, which some have dubbed a "Cash for Kids" model. The Foundation was a "Chairman" level sponsor of the 2011 ALEC Annual Conference.

According to Diane Ravitch, the goal of the Walton Foundation has little to do with education, "everything they do has the singular goal of dismantling public education and opening the schools to untrained, uncertified teachers."

Teach for America additionally receives funding from the Doris and Donald Fisher Fund, which also funds the Kipp Foundation, a massive charter school network. Other funders of Teach for America include the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Anschutz Family Foundation, the investment firm Goldman Sachs, and corporations including Amgen, Cisco, Visa, and Coca-Cola.

Educators Question Funding, Effectiveness of Teach for America

Teach for America has had teachers in Milwaukee for four years now, and money from the state budget will help Teach for America expand its program there from 50 to 70 teachers. Milwaukee is currently the only school district in Wisconsin with teachers from Teach for America, and they work in public, charter, and voucher schools.

The $1 million taxpayer subsidy for Teach for America has Milwaukee's education community worried. Bob Peterson, the President of the Milwaukee Teacher's Education Association, disapproves of the provision. "Wisconsin taxpayers should not have to subsidize a national organization with net assets of over $350 million that is essentially a job training program for privileged college students mostly from out of state," he told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

Minnesota's Governor Dayton Vetoes Teach for America Funds

Governor Walker is not expected to veto the Teach for America giveaway since it was included in his original budget bill, but the tables are turned in Wisconsin's neighbor to the West.

Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton has vetoed an appropriation of $1.5 million for Teach for America in his state. In a letter explaining his veto, Governor Dayton focused on the manner in which Teach for America was awarded the funds, questioning the lack of a competitive grant process.

Governor Dayton also pointed out Teach for America's deep pockets. "[Teach for America] is a well-established, national program with revenues totaling $270 million for fiscal year 2011 ... with those financial resources available, it is not clear why a $1.5 million grant from the State of Minnesota is required to continue or expand the organization's work here."

CMD's Mary Bottari and Nick Surgey contributed to this article.