Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Service Learning, Education, and the Budget Crisis

I have been an advocate for service learning before my work with the initial AmeriCorps class of 1993-94. I believe in the spirit promoted by the words of Marian Wright Edelman, "Service is the rent we pay for living; it is the very purpose of life and not something you do in your spare time."
On February 14, 2011 President Obama sent his Fiscal Year 2012 budget request to Congress, which included proposed funding for the Corporation for National and Community Service and its programs. This budget request is designed to strengthen our nation’s volunteer sector, foster innovation and civic engagement, and mobilize five million Americans to help solve critical problems through national service. This is a bold budget request, recognizing national service and service learning is a critical, cost-effective investment in our nation’s future. It teaches participants to solve problems, strengthen communities, and transform its participants. These are important service learning programs throughout the country but especially our most disadvantaged urban areas.
Last week, Appropriations Committee Chair Rogers (R-KY) proposed the elimination of the entire Corporation for National and Community Service, including AmeriCorps. Starting yesterday, the U.S. House of Representatives began consideration of the budget that will fund the last seven months of Fiscal Year 2011 – called a Continuing Resolution. If passed in its current form, the resolution will immediately cut $100 billion from the federal budget and eliminate the Corporation for National and Community Service. The Continuing Resolution could create a shock to the fragile economic recovery and send us back into a recession that would cost far more in the long term than it would save in the short.
Undoubtedly, as noted previously in this blog, we need to get a hold of the nation's budget deficit. These coming weeks will be just the beginning of a battle to save vital service and educational programs in this country. Ideologies are quite dichotomous related to what is best for the public interest and for the nation's future. We need to encourage our elected leaders to face tough choices to address our country’s challenges.
However budget cuts will be necessary! Either party's proposed budget will hurt all communities in many ways. As a country, we need to reign in the deficit.
Yes, it is time we roll up our collective sleeves and provide more service learning without expectation of remuneration. I am encouraging increased levels of service learning from my college students and will be an active participant in the budget debate. What will you do?
You are encouraged today and throughout the year to let your Representative know the cost effectiveness of education and national service programs, which help the nation's long-term growth and vitality. Surgical cuts in the budget should keep this truth a priority during every debate.
You can call your Representative directly, be connected through the House Operator (202-225-3121), or look him/her up online by ZIP code here.
When contacting elected officials, it will be important for you to know that:
  • The Continuing Resolution will decimate vital services in our
    communities when millions of Americans need food, shelter, healthcare, job
    training and educational support.
  • AmeriCorps provides important educational support. For example, 140 AmeriCorps members are serving in 10 Boston Public Schools. They are providing targeted and school-wide interventions in literacy and classroom behavior. If Congress eliminates AmeriCorps, nearly 2,000 high-risk 3rd-9th graders will no longer receive this additional support in the classroom.
  • The Continuing Resolution will only push unemployment rates up because many Americans who are struggling to find work, rely upon national service
    programs to earn a subsistence-level stipend, develop skills, and create
    pathways to future employment.
  • The federal investment made in faith based and community organizations through the Corporation for National and Community Service leverages $799 million in matching funds from companies, foundations and other sources.