Teach for America is best known for sending bright young college graduates to teach for two years in poor communities.
But it’s much more than a service organization. It’s a political powerhouse.
With a $100 million endowment and annual revenues approaching $300 million, TFA is flush with cash and ambition. Its clout on Capitol Hill was demonstrated last week when a bipartisan group of lawmakers made time during the frenzied budget negotiations to secure the nonprofit its top legislative priority — the renewal of a controversial provision defining teachers still in training, including TFA recruits, as “highly qualified” to take charge of classrooms.
It was a huge victory that flattened a coalition of big-name opponents, including the NAACP, the National PTA and the National Education Association. But it barely hints at TFA’s growing leverage.
TFA has already produced an astounding number of alumni who have transformed the education landscape in states from Tennessee to Texas by opening public schools to competition from private entrepreneurs; rating teachers in part on their ability to raise student test scores; and pressing to eliminate tenure and seniority-based job protections. Convinced that quicker, bolder change is needed, TFA executives are mining their network of 32,000 alumni to identify promising leaders and help them advance.