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Nonprofit set to get another $2 million despite low reading, math proficiencies

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(The Center Square) – A state lawmaker says the use of taxpayer dollars on Teach For America is a waste. The nonprofit teacher development group is seeking more money amid low reading and math proficiencies across the state.

During a recent House committee hearing, state Rep. Will Davis, D-Homewood, pressed Teach for America about their funding and how many participants the nonprofit organization serves. According to the chairman’s math, the organization receives about $9 million to $10 million overall to operate its program in Illinois.

State Rep. Blaine Wilhour, R-Beecher City, said TFA funding, like a lot of education funding, doesn’t go to the classroom.

“It goes to prop up an entire ecosystem that’s been built under the education funding that we have. We are spending more money on education now than we ever have, by a large margin. Seven out of 10 of our kids can’t read, the same with math and it gets even worse in minority communities that these programs [like TFA] are supposed to be focused on,” Wilhour told The Center Square. “Where is this money going?”

The Illinois State Board of Education and Gov. J.B. Pritzker recommended a total of $2 million be given to TFA Illinois again this fiscal year. Last year, the group received $2 million in taxpayer money.

Anajah Roberts, TFA executive director of Greater Chicago and Northwest Indiana, said their goal is to develop high impact teachers to serve in Illinois communities with the most need.

“Over 1,000 of our alumni are in school-based roles across the state like Harvey, Peoria, Round Lake and Urbana. Our alumni initiatives underscore our commitment to fostering a robust educational ecosystem,” said Roberts. “When our alumni become transformational leaders that impacts the entire school ecosystem.”

In Peoria, only 15% of students can read at grade level, in Harvey 12%, in Round Lake 11.8% and in Urbana 12.8% of students can read at grade level. Statewide, the organization serves 1,000 alumni and 123 first and second year teachers. TFA, in the hearing, said it served about 130,000 students in Illinois.

Wilhour said there’s lots of questions when it comes to TFA’s funding. TFA claimed in the hearing it receives $4 in private funding for every $1 of public funding, but then back-tracked and said that $4 wouldn’t just go to TFA Illinois but for their national efforts.

“We’re putting $2 million into Teach for America, this is a national organization and they say they get $4 back for every dollar spent. Is the state of Illinois propping up bureaucratic spending for all the states around us? What’s Indiana giving to Teach For America?” said Wilhour “There’s a lot of legitimate questions we are trying to get to the bottom of in the appropriations committee. At the end of the day, more money into education, which is already very, very well funded, is not the answer because we have been doing that for a very long time and our scores are going down not up.”

In the House Appropriations-Elementary and Secondary Education Committee hearing Wednesday, TFA asked for $2 million from the state for fiscal year 2025. Roberts said their national $4 match is a benefit.

“Our ability to connect to a larger national network … allows us to get on the map with recruits across the country,” said Roberts.

This year’s Illinois Association of Regional Superintendents of Schools survey found more than 90% of schools responding reported having a “serious” or “very serious” teacher shortage problem.