Local school districts pay $4,000+ per TFA teacher recruited

Updated: Feb. 5, 2021 at 4:49 PM EST
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CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - Teach for America says the goal of the program is to recruit a diverse group of teachers to work in low-income communities.

It’s no surprise local school districts have partnered with TFA amid a teacher shortage crisis.

But this report from the Inspector General raised concerns that not only was TFA getting $3 million in state funds but they also charged local school districts $402,500 for similar services.

One district official said they were “unaware the state provided funding to TFASC... and found this news to be disturbing as a taxpayer and added it was ‘almost like double paying.’”

“The school districts didn’t know we were paying, and we didn’t know the school districts were paying,” State Treasurer Curtis Loftis told us when our initial story aired this week.

Loftis wants the state to cut ties with TFA, calling the agreement a “financial boondoggle for taxpayers.”

“It just doesn’t pay, we need to cease business, stop doing business with this group, close their account,” he said.

This school year, the state’s alternative certificate program called PACE provided 58 teachers for Lowcountry schools, according to the OIG report; TFA provided 18.

We asked local schools about their TFA partnerships.

Charleston County Schools has worked with them for nine years, hiring about 149 of their teachers in that time.

The cost to the district was $4,000 to $4,500 each, according to CCSD spokesperson Andy Pruitt.

That would total roughly $600,000.

“Due to the national teacher shortage, CCSD exhausts all possible avenues to recruit and retain educators. Teach for America is one of the resources we use to fill vacancies,” CCSD said in a statement to Live 5 News.

Colleton County Schools has 13 TFA teachers this year and pays about $4,500 per teacher.

A statement provided by spokesperson Sean Gruber said, “TFA has provided us with another alternative to fill our teacher position vacancies, which is extremely important due to the teacher shortage that South Carolina is facing. TFA provides us with a diverse cadre of teachers with a variety of backgrounds, which helps expose our students to new ways of thinking they may not otherwise encounter.”

Colleton has also had success in retaining TFA teachers after their two-year contracts have ended, Gruber noted.

Dorchester District Two spokesperson Pat Raynor told us they have one TFA teacher right now and haven’t been billed by TFA.

Berkeley County School District has used Teach for America for approximately seven years “in addition to other non-traditional services to recruit qualified and individuals to fill certified teaching positions,” spokesperson Brian Troutman said.

He says fees have varied and that this year BCSD used Teach for America to fill nine vacancies; they were charged approximately $5,500 per teacher.

“As always, we will continue to explore many avenues for teacher recruitment and retention as we, along with many other school districts in this country, are impacted by a nationwide teacher shortage that dates back to the early 90s (according to US Department of Education Data) in some subject areas,” Troutman wrote in a statement.

In the OIG report, one unnamed rural county school district said they stopped partnering with TFASC because it “was no longer cost effective.”

“We’re just interested in making sure the money the taxpayer sends to Columbia is going to get spent on teachers and ultimately students,” Loftis said.

The TFASC Director told the Inspector General’s Office they aren’t double dipping by charging districts because it costs $4,000,000 a year to operate.

Loftis noted in a letter to lawmakers that TFA SC sent $851,000 to the TFA national headquarters on Park Avenue in New York.

Teach for America’s full statement response to Live 5 Investigates is in our original story.

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