This year, St. Paul-based College Possible is helping more than 10,000 low-income high school students in Minnesota and five other states enroll and succeed in college. Its front-line staffers are 200 AmeriCorps members.
More than 1,200 trained AmeriCorps tutors are at the heart of the Minnesota Reading Corps, which is boosting literacy among young children with such good effect that it has become the model for similar programs in 11 states.
That’s just some of the good that AmeriCorps and the related Senior Corps are doing in Minnesota — and it’s why we’re alarmed by the rough treatment these laudable national service programs have been receiving in Congress. Committees in both the U.S. House and Senate approved deep funding cuts that would shrink AmeriCorps in this and every other state.
With small-government Republicans in charge of both chambers, national service programs are not alone in coming under the congressional budget knife. But the cuts dealt this activity are disproportionately deep and unusually shortsighted. As Congress reconvenes on Tuesday, Minnesota’s delegation ought to be leaders in reversing this course.
The House bill would whack national service funding by one-third, or $367 million, and cut the Corporation for National Community Service and its related state commissions so deeply that their ability to administer programs would be in doubt. While the Senate bill’s cut is a less onerous 20 percent, it would reduce the number of AmeriCorps positions by more than 25 percent.
That would be a shame. National service programs are a bargain and a win-win-win for this nation. Participants, those they directly assist and their larger communities all benefit. They tutor and teach, clean up after disasters, house the poor, coach nonprofits to be more effective and help seniors remain in their own homes. Along the way, they enhance their own skills and commitment to civic stewardship.
This year, 75,000 Americans comprise AmeriCorps — predominantly young adults, though teens and adults of all ages and stations sign up. They commit to 1,700 hours of service, for which they are paid a very modest stipend — $1,000 a month — and earn a higher education award of $5,645 that can be applied to tuition or student loan debt service. AmeriCorps members work not directly for the government, but for intermediaries like College Possible that must compete for AmeriCorps grants, raise matching funds from the private sector and evaluate their results.
There’s genius in that design’s blend of private and public effort and its assurance that money is well spent. Given the nation’s persistent achievement gap, growing elderly population and soaring student loan debt, a strong case can be made for AmeriCorps’ expansion this year. There’s no good argument for its demolition.