Arkansas Governor & Donors Direct $6 Million To Teach For America, Some Question Training

Jan 27, 2016

Little Rock School Superintendent Baker Kurrus speaks at the podium while newspaper publisher Walter Hussman, who represents private donors, and Gov. Asa Hutchinson listen during Wednesday's announcement.
Credit Jacob Kauffman / KUAR News

Governor Asa Hutchinson announced on Wednesday that 150 Teach for America positions will be funded by $3 million dollars over three years from his discretionary funds. Another $3 million in private donations will fund 65 positions in Little Rock schools.

The nationwide program recruits recent college graduates, regardless of degree, to serve as non-traditionally licensed teachers. Jared Henderson with Arkansas’s division of Teach for America called the state’s contribution a “transformational investment” that brings the organization to Little Rock for the first time. It currently operates in five east and southern Arkansas counties

“It has inspired an extraordinary and unprecedented investment from business and philanthropic leaders in Little Rock. I’d like to personally thank Walter Hussman, Haskell Dickinson and the McGeorge family who took the lead,” said Henderson about Hutchinson spurring private contributions.

But State Senator Joyce Elliott of Little Rock, a former educator, told reporters struggling students need experienced teachers, not recent graduates without traditional licenses.

“If you were getting on a plan and there were poor flying conditions, there is no way you would say, ‘give me the pilot with the highest grade point average, hasn’t flown that many miles, doesn’t have the experience of the one that’s been around for 10 or 12 years,’ we would never do that,” said Elliott, “but we do it to kids.”

At the announcement Arkansas Democrat-Gazette publisher Walter Hussman, representing Little Rock donors, touted his belief that youthful energy can turn around failing schools.

“These are people who are intelligent, who are dedicated, and want to make a big difference to public school kids in America,” said Hussman.

Elliot said donors would “never accept” TFA teachers as a substitute for traditionally educated staff at the schools of their children. 

“This misguided benevolence, it sounds as if we’re doing something great for these poor kids who are very much in need. If they’re very much in need, then are these the teachers that they need?” asked Elliott.

After the press conference Little Rock School District Superintendent Baker Kurrus said Teach For America teachers will likely only go to academically distressed schools. 15 TFA teachers are expected to being next school year. Kurrus said the eventual 65 positions will be used to help fill the average 175 spots the district fills due to attrition and turnover.

Elliott said the TFA teachers should still be accepted but that a long-term plan to economically develop communities with distressed schools is needed along with incentives to encourage experienced teachers to teach in troubled schools.

The Little Rock School District was put under state control and its school board dissolved last year. Arkansas Education Commissioner Johnny Key, who had education requirements waived to be appointed by Governor Hutchinson to his post, appointed Kurrus superintendent. Kurrus also did not have the traditional education expected of superintendents.