Despite some complaints, Louisiana’s top school board Wednesday approved nearly $1 million to aid a group that trains and supports teachers for hard-to-fill classroom jobs.

The organization, Teach For America, places top-flight teachers in challenging school districts in Baton Rouge, New Orleans and rural areas.

During the 2010-11 school year, nearly half of the state’s Teach For America teachers produced student academic growth equal to one and a half years of schooling, according to a report by the state Department of Education.

“These results are backed up by feedback from principals,” the report says.

But several members of the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education and others questioned the spending and whether Louisiana already has a glut of teachers.

“We are spending $1 million per year to bring in 550 teachers,” said BESE member Linda Johnson, of Plaquemine.

Teach For America is a national group that had about 8,000 educators in schools last year.

It recruits college graduates, puts them through five weeks of intense training and sends them to some of the most troubled public schools in the nation for at least two years.

The $968,468 allocation – about 10 percent of the group’s annual operating costs – will be used to train and place 550 Teach For America educators in Louisiana schools for the 2011-12 school year.

Mississippi provides about $5 million per year and Texas about $4 million per year, said Michael Tipton, executive director of Teach For America/South Louisiana.

Tipton said that about 150 of the teachers work within a roughly 90-minute drive of Baton Rouge, including school systems in East Baton Rouge, East Feliciana, Pointe Coupee, St. Helena and Avoyelles parishes.

The money is especially helpful in recruiting teachers to work in the Delta of northeast Louisiana and other rural areas, backers said.

But Keith Guice, a BESE member from Monroe, said the superintendent of the East Carroll Parish school system — one of the targeted rural areas —- told him TFA educators there were part of school layoffs and are not expected to be needed.

Walter Lee, of Mansfield, another BESE member who is also superintendent of the DeSoto Parish school system, praised the work of TFA.

“I do think it is expensive,” Lee said of the nearly $1 million in state aid.

In a report to BESE, the department said Louisiana was one of five states to welcome TFA educators when they began work in 1990.

The study also said TFA participants earn their certification through The New Teacher Project, which generally produces teachers that rank higher than their experienced counterparts.

But Don Whittinghill, a consultant for the Louisiana School Boards Association, said in an interview at the meeting that even state estimates show 600 certified teachers were laid off last year.

“And we think it is more than that,” he said.

Whittinghill said the nearly $1 million for TFA could be better used providing pre-kindergarten classes for another 2,000 youngsters when about 40,000 need it.