Can TFA stay on its growth curve?

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How does the economic downturn jive with Teach For America's aggressive growth model? TFA is one of the few nonprofits that has been able to scale up during previous economic downturns and has continued plans to grow--with the ultimate goal of not just closing the achievement gap, but becoming an "enduring American institution."

Its projected budget for 2010 is still slated at a jaw-dropping $160 million, up 113 percent from 2007's budget of $75 million. TFA is one of the few organizations hiring--its recruitment staff is up 35 percent and applicants for the 2009 teaching corps are up 50 percent already this year. While a hefty investment in recruitment may have something to do with the increase in applicants, the dismal state of the economy certainly plays a part.

But can TFA weather this particularly bad economic storm? One big city district told us that they have every intention of making big cuts in the TFA contract and that they are not alone. The Indianapolis, Memphis and St. Louis school districts, all of whom are facing budget shortfalls, concede that they will need to reevaluate their contracts with TFA.

While vacancies in many school districts may be shrinking, TFA is increasingly placing recruits in charter schools (10 percent of the 2007 corps) and expanding its regions to cover larger geographic areas. For example, as of 2007, TFA started placing teachers in Prince George's County, Maryland, in addition to Washington, D.C.