Even the mighty Teach For America, whose annual budget nearly tripled in the last three years to $110 million, is suffering the effects of recession.

The national organization that places recent college graduates in hard-to-fill teaching positions is dramatically scaling back the size of its New York City cohort this fall, according to an e-mail sent today by the region’s alumni director to former TFA corps members. About 350 TFA teachers will start teaching in the city in September, down from more than 500 this year. Of the 350 teachers, nearly 30 percent are likely to be placed in charter schools, a higher proportion than in the past, the e-mail said.

And the organization says it could reduce the size of New York City cohort even further, depending on how the city’s budget shapes up. (If the layoffs that the mayor and chancellor have warned about actually happen, you can be sure that there won’t be too many 22-year-olds teaching in the city this fall.)

The e-mail also contains a guide to some of the factors that could affect demand for new teachers this fall, no matter their path to the classroom:

  • A reduced NYC DOE budget means there is simply less money with which to hire new teachers at the school level; principal budgets will be cut across the board.
  • Retirement and resignation rates among all city employees, including central NYC DOE staff, school administrators, and teachers, are expected to decline as a result of the poor economy.
  • The NYC DOE recently instituted a meaningful financial incentive for principals to hire teachers from the Active Teacher Reserve as opposed to hiring new teachers through sources such as the NYC Teaching Fellows and Teach For America, or through traditional routes.
  • Central NYC DOE staff may go back to working in schools, occupying both teaching and administrative vacancies, as a result of cuts in central staff positions.

The entire letter is after the jump.

January 29, 2009

Dear New York City Alumni,

As stewards of the movement for educational equity, and as stewards of the work of Teach For America here in New York City–our organization’s largest region–it is important to me to keep you informed of major organizational updates. Therefore, I’m writing to provide you with the latest information about our continued impact here in the largest school district in the nation.

As many of you have heard by now, as a result of the economic crisis, both New York City and State are experiencing severe financial constraints that have already begun to result in major budget reductions across most, if not all, government services. Governor David Paterson has proposed a $9 billion spending cut across the state, and nearly $700 million in state-wide budget cuts for K-12 education.

While these cuts are not yet official as New York State legislators will not make a final decision on the size and form of the cuts until this spring at the earliest, the New York City Department of Education (NYC DOE) is currently projecting up to $1.5 billion worth of cuts locally, over the 2008-09 and 2009-10 school years. If you’ve been following the local press, you may have heard that these cuts may result in layoffs, new teacher hiring reductions and freezes, and/or classroom consolidations. As well, it is unclear whether the proposed federal stimulus package will cover some of the budgetary holes this city is faced with in coming years. This letter is intended to update you on the information we currently have concerning the proposed budget cuts, the way we are working with our district and charter partners to handle the situation and the actual and potential implications for placement of the 2008 and 2009 corps members in the 2009-10 school year.

Overview and Context

The Governor’s $121 billion budget for the 2009-10 fiscal year reflects a one percent increase in spending from the current fiscal year. Typically, budgets increase spending well beyond one percent year-to-year. Thus, the majority of the “budget cuts” are actually reductions in anticipated spending by government agencies and programs across the state. However, there are some areas where the Governor is actually proposing cuts to this year’s spending: education is one of them. To date, the Governor has not recommended what percentage of the education-related cuts should be aimed at classrooms and schools versus outside, administrative and central services. New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg has stated, “I don’t know that 100 percent of it is going to the classroom, but a large percentage of any reduction we get from the state will go to the classroom. That will mean larger class sizes and smaller classrooms.” While the city will look for savings outside school budgets, there is a relatively small amount of funds in the current budget that is not already allocated directly to schools. Of the $21 billion overall NYC DOE budget, more than 60 percent is allocated to schools themselves and most of the remaining $8 billion is allocated to school support services such as food, buses, and debt servicing. Only $600 million of the total $21 billion budget is spent on central expenses and field expenses that do not hit schools directly.

The situation remains in a state of flux, and it was announced on January 28 that the federal stimulus package under development by the U.S. Congress could include significant education aid for New York City. Key influencers including legislators, teachers unions, and district, community, and business leaders are actively debating spending and budget cuts, as well as proposed new taxes. We do not know how the legislative process will affect the Governor’s proposed budget, much less whether the nearly $700 million cuts to education will be lessened. Regardless of how the cuts and ameliorating federal aid play out, it is safe to say that education spending will be cut in the new fiscal year, and that it is likely that spending for the 2009-10 fiscal year by the NYC DOE will be less than in the 2008-09 year. Thus, the NYC DOE has already begun to cut central positions and is prepared to hire fewer central and school-based staff, including teachers, in the coming year.

Actual and Potential Impact on 2009 Corps Size and Placements

The NYC DOE is projecting a continued decline in demand for new teachers across New York City. While some of this projected decline can be attributed to positive changes that recent reforms and organizations like Teach For America and the New York City Teaching Fellows have had on teacher supply in New York City, some of the decline in demand can also be attributed to a reduction in financial resources available to schools. As a region, we felt this decline most notably at the end of the placement season for the 2008 corps. For the first time in recent history, a small number of corps members (33 out of 545) were unplaced after the first day of school. While we were ultimately able to secure teaching positions for our entire 2008 corps by mid-October, challenges in the 2008 placement season may serve as an indicator for the placement challenges we could face as a region in the 2009 placement season.

At this time, there are more questions than answers about how new teacher hiring will be affected by budget cuts, and about whether current teachers may be laid off as a result of cuts. We know that the following factors will affect new teacher demand:

  • A reduced NYC DOE budget means there is simply less money with which to hire new teachers at the school level; principal budgets will be cut across the board.
  • Retirement and resignation rates among all city employees, including central NYC DOE staff, school administrators, and teachers, are expected to decline as a result of the poor economy.
  • The NYC DOE recently instituted a meaningful financial incentive for principals to hire teachers from the Active Teacher Reserve as opposed to hiring new teachers through sources such as the NYC Teaching Fellows and Teach For America, or through traditional routes.
  • Central NYC DOE staff may go back to working in schools, occupying both teaching and administrative vacancies, as a result of cuts in central staff positions.

Along with my leadership team, I have been in close discussions with New York City Schools Chancellor Joel Klein and his team for the past several months about the potential impact to Teach For America’s corps size as a result of cuts, policies, and the general economic crisis. Chancellor Klein remains committed to Teach For America but is obviously constrained by the realities of the current economic environment. Together, we have determined that the best course of action, in respect of budget and spending cuts as well as risk mitigation factors internal to Teach For America, is to reduce the 2009 incoming corps size to approximately 350 corps members, down from over 500 in the past three years. Several factors have led us to plan for this smaller incoming cohort of New York City corps members, and to plan to place a larger percentage of the incoming corps in charter schools:

  • The economic crisis will undoubtedly have a negative impact on our ability to raise sufficient funds this coming fiscal year to support–through both local and national funding–our original projected total corps size of 1,000.
  • The NYC DOE and our charter school partners have provided us with enough evidence for us to feel relatively confident about placing 350 incoming corps members.
  • Our internal admissions cycle and process requires certainty around regional corps size by late winter, requiring us to decide what our corps size will be months in advance of when the NYC DOE will be able to form a completely clear picture of the operational impact of the current budget situation.
  • We want to ensure that we are able to re-place 2008 New York City corps members who lose their positions (or are “excessed”) at specific school sites, but who remain NYC DOE employees.

For our incoming 2009 corps, we project that approximately 250 will teach in district schools, and 100 will teach in charter schools. It is important to note that if the proposed cuts to the City’s education budget create the need for the Mayor and Chancellor to institute a new teacher hiring freeze (i.e., close to no new teachers hired for the coming school year), our district cohort may be even smaller than anticipated. We and the NYC DOE fervently hope that this does not occur.

Your Role

It is our strong belief that absent economic constraints, Teach For America would and should maintain its current scale in New York City. Even with an incoming corps of 350 teachers, we will continue to operate as Teach For America’s largest region (with approximately 850 corps members total for the 2009-10 school year). Further, it is our strong belief that we will be able to re-attain scale of 1,000+ first- and second-year New York City corps members in the coming years. In order to do so, however, it is incumbent upon all of us to ensure we make the greatest impact possible on New York City’s students and continue to strengthen the alumni network–more so now than ever–as we reduce our numerical scale for this coming school year.

I know that this news and the general news of the nationwide financial crisis have created a difficult situation for those of you that may be impacted by the proposed budget cuts and generally across all the sectors in which you work. In such difficult times, it is important for each of us to remember our respective role as a leader in the movement for educational equity. This is precisely the type of obstacle that we have committed to persevering through as a collective force of individuals who believe that all children in this nation can and will have the opportunity to attain an excellent education and that there’s no silver bullet theory that will on its own realize this dream.

In a recent team meeting on this precise topic, I imparted on my whole staff that we all need to step up our game if we are to come closer to realizing our vision of educational equity for our students, even in a time of economic uncertainty and unforeseen challenges. For 70 percent of you still working in schools, more so now than ever, I encourage you to continue to work alongside fellow staff, principals, families, communities and fellow educators to ensure your students rise to the high academic expectations you set for them. For all of us, more so now than ever we must forge strong and impactful relationships with colleagues, managers, and community members who are not part of the direct Teach For America family of corps members, alumni, and staff so that we can set individual and collective examples of the importance of the work of our corps members and alumni–3,000 strong–in this city. I am personally calling upon you as stewards of the work of our organization, and as stewards of our students’ life paths in this country more broadly, to also step up your game in the new year. In this time of such financial crisis, it is our kids and their families who are hit hardest; more so now than ever, I am giving my all to our work and our mission and am asking you to join me and our staff in doing the same. …

Best regards,
Jemina

Jemina R. Bernard
Executive Director
Teach For America · New York City