Is Teach For America rightfully a charity?

TFA garners funding from an array of private donors.  Over a four-year period, as a result of targeted solicitations, public funds, taxpayer funded stipends, and finder fees, $1 billion in revenue was reported on the non-profit’s 501c3 tax returns (Schneider, 2016).

Teach For America benefits from the generous support of corporations with headquarters located in the state of California. TFA’s donors go to great lengths to funnel funds from unsuspecting clients, to the non-profit.

But did you know that this ongoing practice, first noted in my book excerpt (2010, p. 177) is of particular interest to Californians, who may ask themselves this question:  Are TFA Teachers, or a Charity?  These inconsistencies are perplexing in light of AB 221, especially if donors receive benefits of tax deductions  earmarked for a charity or service organization.  Whose California are CEO’s, who reside and do business in the state, advocating for? Letter below references these concerns sent previously to Wells Fargo CEO.

Mr. John Stumpf, CEO
Wells Fargo Corporate Offices
420 Montgomery Street
San Francisco, CA 94104
Dear Mr. Stumpf,

Enclosed please find an excerpt from my award-winning book, “Learning on Other People’s Kids:   Becoming A Teach For America Teacher (2010) that references your organization and its’ outreach to clients, including my mother and father, both retirees, to support Teach For America.

The Wells Fargo Advisors letter, signed by CEO Daniel J. Ludeman, president and CEO reads:

“Enclosed is the survey that I told you about in a recent letter. It should take no more than 10  minutes of your time. We’ve included a postage-paid return envelope for your convenience. For each survey received, we will make a donation to your choice of one of three charities: The American Red Cross, The Council for the Aging or Teach For America. Please mail back yoursurvey by July 13.

My mother, with grandchildren born and attending school in California, wondered:

“Why would donations be solicited by Wachovia Securities/Wells Fargo Advisors for Teach For  America? And since when is teaching some kind of charity? This letter bothers me because it is demeaning to real teachers who dedicate their lives to being teachers.  I doubt anyone is collecting funds for them. By distributing this letter to its’ unsuspecting clients, Wachovia/Wells Fargo is sending  a message to its customers that Teach For America is a charitable organization,” (p. 177).

As your company funds agencies that you deem ‘charities,’ such as Teach For America, Inc., whose operating budget exceeds 880 million dollars, perhaps Wells Fargo can rev up support for millions of your customers and their families, who are career educators. These customers commit to teaching not as a two-year service, prior to embarking on one’s post-TFA career, but as their professional teacher work where they remain in communities, purchase goods and services, and stabilize the economy.

According to U.S. Census Department data released in early September 2011, my home state, Arizona, lost more than 10,000 education jobs over the course of the one-year period from March 2009-March 2010, of which 6,470 of these were classroom instructor/teacher positions that were never recovered.  My state is not alone in this sad statistic. What is of particular concern is that while teacher layoffs have become routine,     the hiring of Teach For America intern teachers has grown.

Wells Fargo’s support of education-as-charity work appears to counter the economic and social importance of career educators, whose enduring professional commitment to children is deemed critically important, by Wells Fargo customers. CEO letters that incentivize donations directed to an educational charity for untrained teachers, not only raise questions and transparency issues with clients, but publicizing TFA as a charity worth donating to, affirms a “mission model” that TFA “serves” certain populations of children (as noted in your former print advertisement below).

The question posed in a peer-reviewed journal article published previously, still begs the question: Teaching or Service?

I am aware that Wells Fargo supports the Arizona Teacher of the Year Award and appreciate  that commitment. But these financial inconsistencies are of concern. I look forward to hearing more about how Wells Fargo and other corporations, advocate for career educators.

See all of Cloaking Inequity’s posts about Teach For America here.

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