Party politics and Teach for America

PARTY POLITICS AND TEACH FOR AMERICA…. George Will’s column today sings the praises of Teach for America (TFA) and its CEO, Wendy Kopp. It’s one of those rare Will columns that I have no trouble agreeing with, but it’s the conclusion that’s important.

Will explains in the piece that TFA helps direct graduates of elite universities into teaching positions in difficult-to-staff schools in areas of urban and rural poverty. It’s been a striking success, and Kopp clearly deserves enormous credit — this program and its participants are making a remarkable difference that will pay dividends for all of us for years to come.

So, what’s the catch? Take a wild guess.

Government funding — federal, state, local — is just 30 percent of TFA’s budget. Last year’s federal allocation, $21 million, would be a rounding error in the General Motors bailout. And Kopp says that every federal dollar leverages six non-federal dollars. All that money might, however, be lost because even when Washington does something right, it does it wrong.

It has obtusely defined “earmark” to include “any named program,” so TFA has been declared an earmark and sentenced to death. If Congress cannot understand how nonsensical this is, it should be sent back to school for remedial instruction from some of TFA’s exemplary young people.

I’m delighted George Will is shining a light on this, but note his use of passive voice — Teach for America “has been … sentenced to death.” That’s true, but it’s incomplete.

The word Will doesn’t want readers to see is “Republican.” This successful, innovative education program was on track to receive $18 million in federal funding, but under the Republican budget plan, this has been reduced to zero. As GOP lawmakers see it, Teach for America, which used to enjoy bipartisan support, doesn’t deserve a single penny from the federal budget. It’s part of a brutal effort to gut federal education investment at every level.

It’s a classic example of painfully ridiculous priorities. The same Republicans who put $858 billion in tax cuts on the national charge card in December now believe we can’t afford $18 million for a simple program that puts bright young people to work teaching in low-income schools.

Will’s right to call this “nonsensical,” but he’s wrong to go out of his way to avoid assigning blame.

“TFA has been declared an earmark and sentenced to death”? Here, George, let me fix that for you: Republicans have declared TFA an earmark and sentenced it to death.