The University of Minnesota and Teach for America are scrapping their partnership in the state's first alternative teacher preparation program, citing pinched funding on both ends.
The decision comes after a yearslong debate that's divided the state among those who support nontraditional paths to teaching jobs and others, like teachers' unions, that have said that teachers recruited through TFA sidestep the work and standards that other teachers have to meet.
The number of participants in the U-TFA partnership is falling, U officials said Tuesday. That comes along with a nationwide drop in TFA applications, which have slipped 35 percent since their peak in 2013, according to the program's website. In the Twin Cities region, TFA's numbers fell from 24 members in 2015 to 18 this year.
Participants in the 2017 program at the U would have had to pay more than $23,000 in tuition and fees, an increase of more than 40 percent, TFA spokeswoman Kathryn Phillips said in a news release. She said that goes against the program's commitment to diversity and bringing "nontraditional candidates into the education space."
While it was valuable to learn "how teachers grow and develop their expertise as they simultaneously serve as the teacher of record," the program's funding is "unsustainable," Dean of the College of Education and Human Development Jean Quam said in a statement.
TFA's program model quickly trains college graduates before putting them in classrooms with many minority or poor students. The U's program began in summer 2014 as the first alternative program for TFA corps members under the Minnesota Alternative Teacher Licensure law; it gives students training and recommendation for licensure after 2½ years.
"The best use of our limited resources is to focus on innovative curriculum development and ways to prepare teachers in partnership with our K-12 colleagues," Quam said in the release.
The U program won't accept a 2017 class but will continue its remaining classes.
TFA's national CEO Elisa Villanueva Beard talked about the dropping applications in an April letter on the program's website. She called the situation "the toughest recruitment conditions we've faced in more than two decades." The organization recently marked its 25th birthday.
In 2013, 57,000 people nationally applied to TFA, and 5,800 entered classrooms that fall. Those numbers fell in 2014 — for the first time in more than a decade, the letter said. There were 44,000 applicants in 2015; in 2016, just 37,000.
Reasons include students taking other jobs and "attacks on organizations that seek to bring more people to the field," Villanueva Beard said.
Deborah Dillon, associate dean for graduate and professional programs at the U's College of Education and Human Development, said that though TFA paid the U for 40 corps members each year, the dropping class sizes made it difficult to run the program.
Statewide teachers' union Education Minnesota said it's working to find ways to keep "highly qualified" teachers, President Denise Specht said in a news release.
"Minnesotans want a meaningful voice in meeting challenges facing their local schools, which TFA and other groups with national agendas can't offer," she said.
The national group has seen a few disappointments in Minnesota. In 2013, Gov. Mark Dayton vetoed an appropriation that would have expanded TFA. A state licensing board refused to grant a blanket waiver for the TFA group from teacher licensing rules.
TFA teachers who aren't already licensed to teach in Minnesota need to be in a licensing program, and the group is working on what that might look like without the U, Phillips said. She said the partner program with the U had an eight-week training institute that was longer than others that the national group organizes.
"I would say the Minnesota program was one of the most rigorous programs that we developed," Phillips said.