Teach for America-Mississippi Executive Director Barbara Logan Smith said reduced state funding did not have a major impact on staff or teacher training this year. Credit: Teach for America

Teach For America Mississippi, which has historically brought teachers to underserved school districts in the state, has announced that it will merge with Teach For America Arkansas — a move that could mean layoffs among administrative staff. 

TFA teachers who are fulfilling two year commitments in Mississippi or Arkansas will continue to teach in the area they’ve been assigned throughout this transition. But, the consolidation comes at a time when Mississippi districts are already experiencing a drop in the number of TFA teachers, also referred to as corps members.

“We will do everything we can to keep our really incredible leaders. We’ve got incredible staff who are dedicated to the children and dedicated to their craft of building leaders … so we will do everything we can to keep those incredible folks with us, but we will figure out what the right structure is to do this work incredibly well,” said Barbara Logan Smith, executive director of TFA Mississippi.

The organization, has brought corps members to underserved regions of the Mississippi and Arkansas Delta since 1993. Corps members are asked to fulfill a two year commitment before moving on. Many have decided to stay, with 145 TFA alumni still teaching in the Mississippi Delta.

Delta districts have historically relied on TFA corps members to help fill teacher shortage gaps, but throughout the years these districts have seen fewer corps members coming to their districts.

Where 272 corps members taught in Mississippi during academic year 2015-2016, 196 taught during the 2016-2017 school year, Mississippi Today previously reported. There are 131 corps members stationed in Mississippi for this current school year. Mississippi is currently listed on TFA’s website as a high priority region where the need for teachers is higher than the rest of the country.

Funding from the legislature has also diminished throughout the years.  

TFA experienced a roughly $4 million budget cut between 2015 and 2016, reducing its overall appropriations from $6 million to $1.8 million.

“There has definitely been a reduction in the appropriation that we’ve been able to get, but the state has been incredible in continuing to support our work, even as it navigates tough challenges that are happening in the fiscal landscape across the board. So I would not say [the consolidation] is directly related to the reduction in allocation, but there is a connection to us needing to definitely secure additional work and support,” Logan Smith said.

Logan Smith also said TFA as a whole will be upping its recruitment efforts this year, with a goal to increase TFA corps members seven percent across the nation by 2020.

This won’t be the first time Arkansas and Mississippi have joined together as one region; the two were combined until four years ago.

“I think there was a time when we both believed [that in] separating we would be able to obtain greater funding and greater support in each state as we thought about the breadth of territory. However, we see that consolidating offers us new opportunities to build efficiency and foster a network that is more cohesive across two states as we continue to think about how we support in the Delta,” said Mia Meadows, interim executive director of TFA Arkansas.

Both Meadows and Logan Smith expressed support for the move to consolidate.

“We are just excited to be coming back together with (Arkansas). This is a great moment in time for both states as each will be focused in on making sure that their kids are positioned to shine,” Logan Smith said.

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Kelsey Davis Betz is from Mobile, Ala., and currently lives in Cleveland, where she worked as a Mississippi Delta-based reporter covering education and intersecting issues. Kelsey has a dual degree in journalism and Spanish from Auburn University and worked as an editorial intern at Texas Monthly and a courts reporter at the Montgomery Advertiser. She is a 2018 Educating Children in Mississippi Fellow at the Hechinger Report and is a co-founder of the Mississippi Delta Public Newsroom.