Quick thoughts on two tweets I saw the other day about Teach For America’s finances. The first compares TFA’s revenue and expenses for 2011 . The second tweet looks at the incomes of TFA CEO Wendy Kopp and her husband Richard Barth, CEO of KIPP. I had issues with the implicit message of both tweets.
1.) TFA is a non-profit, but it “made” more money than it spent: I have worked for a number of non-profits in my relatively short work experience, but I don’t consider myself a “non-profit person.” According to the government, “while not-for-profit organizations are permitted to generate surplus revenues, they must be retained by the organization for its self-preservation, expansion, or plans.” Non-profits struggle with capacity building and I credit the ones who can increase their impact annually. It’s tough work. I recognize development (a.k.a. fundraising) as an increasingly integral piece of organizational health, so we can’t fault these organizations for being good at it. Furthermore, if you’re bothered by “corporate ties,” perhaps we should debate the fact that value-driven organizations have to go through wealthy gatekeepers in the first place.* Don’t hate the player, hate the game. Also, let’s not be so quick to place a philanthropists in the same boat of the grand corporate education reform conspiracy.
Organizations such as TFA, City Year, and Year Up shouldn’t struggle to do the great work. A sense of fiscal stability allows their teams to strategize longer term and to employ more qualified people to execute bold visions and plans for the future. When I was an undergraduate, our student government had a history of poor financial management. We generated a small surplus at the end of my first year as treasurer, which I put into a reserve account to hedge against future challenges. While this fund was extremely useful during 2008′s financial crisis, some students still complained saying that a surplus meant we weren’t using all of the activities fee and should therefore lower it. To claim that an organization should merely break even is a dumb argument successfully employed by the GOP following Bill Clinton, and we saw what happened to the deficit following all those massive tax cuts- just sayin’.
2.) Wendy and her husband make way too much money of their organizations: Personally, I don’t think you should have to take a vow of poverty in order to help people. As the mayor of Phoenix discovered while attempting to live on a Food Stamp budget, it’s harder to help others when you can barely help yourself. When people, typically conservatives, attack programs such as AmeriCorps, because they can’t get over the concept of a “paid volunteer,” I cringed. Please get over your cognitive dissonance and realize that a starving martyr can’t consistently help anyone. On the other hand, Wendy does make a pretty penny, but that’s her prerogative as it’s her organization. Could she take a symbolic pay cut? Perhaps, but why should she? However, by their own measures, TFA is a wildly successful organization and she makes chump change compared to CEOs of for-profit corporations. I don’t think she should reduce her pay until they do. There are more effective ways I think TFA could use their revenue, particularly in building capacity in the Mississippi Delta, but it would be egotistical for me to presume I know better than the staff, just as it’s pure hubris for outsiders to judge school districts such as Chicago. Don’t even get me started on my teacher’s salary in Mississippi. smh
Okay, getting off my soap box now. Check out this article about how some folks are addressing the “trained teacher gap.”
*Yes, the undue influence of money is a major problem. I’ll look more at this next time.