Skip to main content

Why AmeriCorps Funding is Critical to Teacher and Student Success

By Bryan Billy

February 2, 2024

Since 2010, Teach For America (TFA) Alabama has recruited, developed, and supported a diverse network of leaders who expand opportunities for children across our state. Over 500 alumni and current corps members have impacted more than 100,000 of our students. Our network continues to work in classrooms, schools, and every sector and field that shape Alabama’s educational landscape. This past spring, we co-hosted our seventh annual Opportunity Summit, with more than 300 educators, school leaders, students, parents, and other community stakeholders from across Alabama to hear from elected leaders such as Gov. Kay Ivey, community leaders, parents, and educators about how we can create a stronger educational experience for all of Alabama's children. We are solutions-driven and we work through partnership to examine possibilities that benefit our children.

At TFA Alabama, our goal is to end educational inequity across our state. Our pathway is rooted in the goal to double third grade reading, fourth grade math, and ACT benchmarking rates in the communities that we serve by 2030. One way we’re focused on making this happen is through partnership that brings a diverse pipeline of educators to our classrooms. Many of our corps members, including me, remain committed beyond their initial two years of service and we work to create an ecosystem that leverages their efforts. For instance, Breakthrough Birmingham created the Accelerate program alongside us to increase both the number of individuals entering the classroom and their readiness to become full-time teachers. This is the genesis of TFA Alabama alumni. The co-creation of the Accelerate program is just one example of how we leverage recruitment and retention of educators across various sectors.

One thing most people might not realize is TFA Alabama teachers are also AmeriCorps members in their first and second years in the classroom. From our vantage point, many individuals who want to serve as educators are unable to do so. They face significant economic barriers, including high student loan debt plus teacher certification fees. If you add that to entering a job with lower pay than other professions, those barriers further limits options. Last year, Alabama started the school year with 1,500 unfilled positions. We have seen the benefit of targeting resources through legislative action to reduce vacancies, especially in rural and urban communities that are already exhausting resources such as emergency certificates to create stop gaps with teacher shortages.

Fortunately, our teachers can use the Segal AmeriCorps Education Award to either pay for teacher certification or pay down their existing student loan debts. Participation in AmeriCorps also enables them to defer their undergraduate student loans for the first two years of teaching and have the interest, which accrues during those two years, paid off by the federal government.

These awards make it possible for people from diverse socio-economic backgrounds to join TFA and many other AmeriCorps partner programs. Today, 72% of our teachers come from low-income backgrounds. TFA’s 30 years of partnership with AmeriCorps has been instrumental to us achieving impact in the communities we serve, including in this congressional district. This partnership is critical to our mission, therefore the proposed elimination of the AmeriCorps Trust which funds the Segal Education Award would be detrimental to the progress we’ve made over the past three decades and to our future goals.

TFA Alabama’s long-standing partnership with AmeriCorps has been instrumental in helping to deepen our impact in the communities we serve and bring us closer to the day when all students have access to an excellent and equitable education. I urge Congress to increase funding for AmeriCorps to allow us to continue this life-changing work.