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AmeriCorps helps communities, fosters future leaders and unites people in a time of distrust.

Thursday, May 11, 2017   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Robin Hanson
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AmeriCorps helps communities, fosters future leaders and unites people in a time of distrust.

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One million young people have pledged to serve to “get things done for America” since 1994 through AmeriCorps. They have applied their leadership to ensuring that our country lives up to its highest ideals of opportunity for all — responding to disasters, helping students succeed, supporting veterans, building affordable housing and providing job training in rural communities. This robust nonpartisan movement is rooted in American values, with staunch champions from both political parties and support from every recent U.S. president.

Yet national service programs — including AmeriCorps — are proposed for elimination in President Trump’s budget blueprint for fiscal year 2018. The loss of these programs would be devastating for communities across the country who rely on AmeriCorps programs to help deliver local solutions for their most pressing problems.

The elimination of national service programs would be felt especially deeply in schools across the country, as about half of national service funding is directed to seeing that children have access to an excellent, equitable education. Nearly 12,000 public and parochial schools receive support from AmeriCorps and other national service programs. Additionally, one in 10 public schools, and one in four high-need public schools, leverages AmeriCorps to accelerate student achievement.

At a time when we should be harnessing all of the leadership, creativity and idealism of Americans to help our communities, we should be discussing how to grow national service, not just protect it. Here’s why.

First, national service makes economic sense. American taxpayers see an enormous return on their small investment. National service funding, which is awarded on a competitive basis to organizations with a proven track record of results, amounts to about .03% of the federal budget. It is matched and exceeded by private, philanthropic and other local resources. And every dollar put toward national service programs yields a return to society of nearly $4 in higher earnings, increased output and other community-wide benefits according to a study from Columbia University economists.

Second, borrowing for college is burying a generation in debt. The average college student graduates with $30,000 in loans. The education award that AmeriCorps members receive gives young adults a pathway to college and further education without saddling them with debt for a lifetime. This helps AmeriCorps programs recruit young people from all walks of life. Almost 50% of AmeriCorps members who serve with Teach for America or City Year, parts of the AmeriCorps service network, are eligible for Pell Grants. Many are the first in their family to graduate from college.

Third, national service can transform the career aspirations of those who serve, setting them on a path to tackle the most pressing problems facing our nation. Eight out of 10 AmeriCorps alumni say that their service was a defining professional experience.

Fourth, national service can ameliorate our country’s growing climate of distrust. By bringing together diverse Americans under a common experience and shared purpose, service is a powerful force to drive increased cooperation and understanding. Researchers at Vanderbilt and Columbia recently found that Teach For America has a strong impact on the attitudes and beliefs of participants — reflecting greater empathy for individuals from disadvantaged groups and decreased prejudice. An earlier research study by Harvard economist Roland Fryer found that participating in Teach For America meaningfully increases racial tolerance.

Similarly, the City Year experience fosters an enduring civic mindset and prepares alumni to work effectively with diverse groups of people. A longitudinal study conducted by Policy Studies Associates found that City Year alumni excelled on every measure of civic engagement, had greater social capital, and were more likely to develop lasting relationships with people from different backgrounds, as compared to similar service-minded peers.

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At a time when it is increasingly difficult to find common ground on how to move the country forward, national service draws widespread public support. A recent survey found that more than 80% of voters from across the political spectrum want Congress to maintain or increase the federal investment in national service.

National service can address pressing societal problems, unite diverse Americans, develop the next generation of leaders and strengthen the fabric of our democracy. It is in every way vital to the future of our nation. We call on Congress to reject the White House budget proposal and continue its strong support for AmeriCorps. We need not just 1 million AmeriCorps alumni, but 1 million people serving each year.

Michael Brown is CEO and Co-Founder of City Year, an education nonprofit founded in 1988 that is dedicated to helping schools and students succeed. Elisa Villanueva Beard is CEO of Teach For America, which has built a leadership force of more than 50,000 nationwide.



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