At a press conference today, Gov. Asa Hutchinson announced he will allocate $3 million of his discretionary funds to Teach for America over the next three years. That sum will pay for 150 new TFA teachers to be assigned to school districts in south and east Arkansas, the governor said.
Separate from that public investment, Hutchinson also said members of the Little Rock business community were donating an additional $3 million in private funds to hire some 65 new TFA teachers in the Little Rock School District specifically over the next three years. Up to 15 of those hires may happen this fall.
Walter Hussman, publisher of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, was on hand at the press conference, representing the private Little Rock donors. “Most believe, as I do, that bringing TFA teachers to Little Rock will really make a significant difference [in the LRSD],” he said. “I have never been involved in a fundraising project … where we raised this much money this quickly.”
Hussman reiterated that all of the donors are from Little Rock — “we’re not really getting money from outside the city” — and emphasized that the effort to bring TFA to Little Rock is not funded by the state. The state has already put enough money into the LRSD, he said, presumably a reference to the more than $1 billion spent over decades of a desegregation settlement. “They wanted to make sure all the state money … went outside of Little Rock.” However, when a reporter asked whether the names of all the donors would be released, the governor replied, not Hussman. Hutchinson said he was unaware of any plans to make that information public.
Jared Henderson, the head of the Arkansas branch of Teach for America, thanked the governor for “this incredible and transformational investment” and also thanked Hussman, along with other Little Rock business notables. “We’re incredibly excited to work with [LRSD] Superintendent [Baker] Kurrus and the Little Rock schools,” he said.
TFA critics often say it replaces experienced veterans with untested newcomers to the profession who know little about the communities in which they’re placed. In a nod to those critiques, Henderson said today that “we’re also incredibly eager to work alongside … educators and leaders already in the Little Rock School District today.” TFA will approach the district, he added, with “respect and humility so that we earn over time the trust of our students, families and new colleagues.”
Superintendent Kurrus was also in attendance. In response to a question from a reporter, Kurrus said the new TFA hires in the LRSD will not be in addition to the approximately 175 new teachers the district would hire each year anyway as a result of natural attrition and turnover.
Another reporter asked Kurrus whether there were shortages in the LRSD currently that Teach for America would address. It’s a good question: If the district isn’t facing a shortfall of teaching staff, is there a need to open up a new pipeline? Is a labor shortage really the problem in the LRSD?
Kurrus didn’t quite answer that question. “Jared and I have discussed using TFA as a source for our critical needs areas: math, science and foreign language,” he said. “TFA will help us recruit and then retain quality teachers in critical need areas … and schools in which we really need help the most. That’s the general plan.”
TFA currently operates in five Arkansas counties, Hutchinson said: Jefferson, Chicot, Phillips, Lee and Union counties. All are in the southern and eastern part of the state. The new $3 million in public money will allow TFA to expand its footprint to other counties in those regions.
Here’s the governor’s press release:
LITTLE ROCK – Governor Asa Hutchinson announced today that his office will fund an investment of $3 million in Teach For America–Arkansas that will have a lasting impact on east and south Arkansas. This investment will fund the training and support of approximately 150 new teachers in rural school districts over the next three years and has prompted a match of $3 million from Little Rock philanthropists and business leaders to bring Teach For America teachers to Little Rock School District for the first time next year.
In rural communities, the state’s investment will grow Teach For America’s work to encourage more top candidates to teach in rural communities and build their careers in the area. The 150 teachers supported by the state’s funding will reach at least 9,000 students in rural communities, an estimated 86 percent of whom qualify for free or reduced lunch. The funding will also accelerate Teach For America’s new initiative to recruit hundreds of Arkansas’ top college students and professionals to teach in Arkansas’ rural communities over the next decade. Additionally, the funding will enable Teach For America to expand its teacher and school-leader professional development to hundreds of participants across the state.
The private match of public dollars will bring approximately 65 new teachers to Little Rock School District over the next three years and will include up to 15 teachers for the 2016–2017 school year. These teachers will reach up to 4,000 students in Little Rock and will be hired in the district’s highest-need schools and subjects.
Governor Hutchinson issued the statement below following Wednesday’s announcement:
“Teach For America has been a community partner in the Arkansas Delta region for 24 years. During that time, more than two dozen Arkansas communities have worked with Teach For America teachers, and their track record is summarized by one simple fact: nearly every district leader who worked with them asked for more teachers from the organization. Many of these strong teachers have gone on to have lasting and transformational impact in schools across the state, from the classroom and beyond. We look forward to the continuation of that work and the opportunity to bring Teach For America’s outstanding educators to the Little Rock School District as part of the district’s broader efforts to help students here soar to new heights.”
Jared Henderson, executive director of Teach For America in Arkansas, issued the statement below following Wednesday’s news conference:
“We’re excited to have Teach For America corps members join school communities in Little Rock while continuing our longstanding commitment to excellent education for children growing up in rural communities. We’re grateful to Governor Hutchinson for his continued commitment to expanding opportunity for kids in rural Arkansas and his ongoing support for our work toward that goal.”
Teach For America, which is celebrating its 25th anniversary nationally this year, has been a member of the Arkansas education community since 1991. This year more than 300 corps members and alumni are leading local classrooms and working from all sectors to expand educational opportunity throughout the state of Arkansas. This leadership force includes 20 school leaders and two former Arkansas state Teachers of the Year.