AmeriCorps, VISTA and Senior Corps would be eliminated under the Trump administration’s 2018 budget proposal, unveiled March 16. These and other national service programs are funded through the Corporation for National and Community Service.
Minnesota – long a leader in promoting volunteerism and community service tied to education – would be one of the biggest losers if the corporation were eliminated. AmeriCorps and other national service programs are overseen in Minnesota by the nonprofit ServeMinnesota.
Minnesota currently has more than 2,200 AmeriCorps members at 1,250 sites. They manage or mobilize 21,000 community volunteers and generate more than $32.0 million for nonprofits, schools and faith-based community organizations.
Minnesota’s Reading Corps
The largest AmeriCorps partner in Minnesota is the state’s Reading Corps, which serves both pre-K and K-3 students. The success of this program in increasing reading proficiency has produced private grants to fund its replication in other states – from California to Massachusetts.
With the AmeriCorps partnership, Minnesota’s Reading Corps model is highly cost-effective. One study found that at-risk students not enrolled in Reading Corps were referred to special education at three times the rate of those who were in Reading Corps. This diversion of children from services no longer needed has resulted in cost savings of $9.0 million.
Some of the president’s proposed budget cuts – in arts and humanities, for example – may be driven by partisan politics. But AmeriCorps and other programs run by the Corporation for National and Community Service have historically enjoyed broad, bipartisan support.
One recent national poll found that 83 percent of American voters – including 78 percent of Republicans – support maintaining or increasing the current federal investment in national service.
Durenberger was lead Republican cosponsor
Bipartisan support for AmeriCorps dates to the early 1990s, when the original federation legislation creating the Corporation for National and Community Service and AmeriCorps was backed by Presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton. Minnesota’s Sen. Dave Durenberger was the lead Republican cosponsor of the original legislation, insisting on its link between community service and K-12 and postsecondary education.
“The link between national service and education,” Durenberger said recently, “has particular relevance today with our commitment to equity in both learning opportunities and academic achievement.”
Bipartisan support for national service was also evident during the recent “AmeriCorps Week” celebration when Democratic and Republican governors and U.S. senators from more than half the states authored proclamations and resolutions of support for national and community service programs.
GOP letter of support
And when it became clear that deep cuts in these programs were under consideration in the Trump White House, a group of 70 former Republican officeholders and leading campaign and fundraising consultants wrote a letter urging the president to preserve funding for AmeriCorps and related programs.
“As Republicans,” the authors wrote the president, “we support the critical goal of eliminating government waste. But as conservatives who believe in the unifying, patriotic values of national service, we urge you to support the Corporation for National and Community Service.”
Bottom line: Deep cuts in National and Community Service programs like AmeriCorps would be foolish and wasteful – costing far more than they would save. Such cuts would also be politically unwise and hurt both individuals and the communities they serve.
Members of Congress should preserve funding for these programs as they consider the president’s FY2018 budget. And Minnesota’s congressional delegation – from both parties – should be leading and supporting that effort.
Jim Kielsmeier is the founding president of the National Youth Leadership Council (NYLC) and an author and speaker on national service and service learning. Amy Meuers is the current NYLC president and CEO. Jon Schroeder is a former NYLC board chair and was policy director for U.S. Sen. Dave Durenberger, R-Minnesota, providing staff support for Durenberger’s role as lead Republican co-sponsor of the original National and Community Service Act.
WANT TO ADD YOUR VOICE?
If you’re interested in joining the discussion, add your voice to the Comment section below — or consider writing a letter or a longer-form Community Voices commentary. (For more information about Community Voices, email Susan Albright at firstname.lastname@example.org.)