Americans of All Stripes Converge to Urge More AmeriCorps Funding

By Michelle Galley — September 10, 2003 6 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Hundreds of advocates for AmeriCorps gathered on Capitol Hill last week seeking $100 million in federal money to bail out programs aided by the national service corps that have seen their budgets drastically reduced.

Topping off a summer-long push for support, Voices for AmeriCorps called together 670 federal, state, and local politicians, policymakers, corporate executives, youth-group leaders, college professors, teachers, principals, and former AmeriCorps members for 100 consecutive hours of speeches that took place over four days in congressional hallways and office buildings.

Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., and John McCain, R-Ariz., David Gergen, the editor-at-large of U.S. News and World Report, and the pop-rock band the Goo Goo Dolls were among those who took part in the bipartisan event.

Still, the fate of thousands of AmeriCorps-supported programs, including after-school, mentoring, and tutoring services, remained uncertain late last week. Some have already shut down.

The Senate approved $100 million in supplemental spending for AmeriCorps by a 71-21 vote, but the Republican leadership in the House struck down the appropriation because of recent financial mismanagement in the agency that oversees AmeriCorps.

“My opposition ... comes down to an issue of accountability,” said Rep. Jim Walsh R-N.Y., who is the chairman of the subcommittee that handles AmeriCorps funding.

Following accounting irregularities at the Corporation for National and Community Service, the program’s parent agency, Congress appropriated only enough money to support 30,000 new members who start this month.

As a result, nonprofit organizations, many of which directly support K-12 education, have had to cut back or discontinue services because they no longer have AmeriCorps members on staff.

“It’s devastating,” said Alan Khazei, the chief executive officer and a co-founder of City Year, a youth- service organization based in Boston that helps inner-city students through programs that focus on literacy, math, violence prevention, and self- esteem.

Heeding the Call

For each of the past five years, City Year has had more than 1,000 AmeriCorps members working in its programs, Mr. Khazei said. The number has been more than halved this year, he said, which means City Year will be able to provide services to only 50,000 children.

U.S. Sen. Norm Coleman, R-Minn., takes his turn during the 28th hour of the vigil in support of restoring funds to AmeriCorps.

U.S. Sen. Norm Coleman, R-Minn., takes his turn during the 28th hour of the vigil in support of restoring funds to AmeriCorps.
—Photograph by Allison Shelley/Education Week

The situation at City Year is not uncommon. Funding for programs in almost every state has been cut as a result of financial problems at the Corporation for National and Community Service.

Problems started to surface last fall, after the corporation experienced an unprecedented surge in applications for AmeriCorps. That groundswell was attributed to the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and President Bush’s call for every American to serve the community in his State of the Union Address four months later.

In response, the federal agency approved applications for 70,000 members, 20,000 more than the trust could afford. Upon realizing their error, corporation officials halted enrollments for all but 50,000 members, said Sandy Scott, an agency spokesman.

Those extra 20,000 memberships had to be carried over into fiscal 2003. Congress capped the enrollment figure at 50,000, including the 20,000 from 2002, a move that essentially dropped the number of new members the agency could enroll by 20,000.

Both the White House Office of Management and Budget, and the General Accounting Office, the investigative arm of Congress, examined the corporation’s financial decisions.

Funding Formula

The OMB and the GAO disagreed on how the corporation should determine how much money to appropriate for each AmeriCorps member, a dispute that was solved with the Strengthen AmeriCorps Programs Act. The measure, passed in July, adopts the OMB recommendations.

That legislation clearly defines the corporation’s funding formula and allows for annual independent audits of the agency.

Meanwhile, the Bush administration, which has long praised AmeriCorps, a Clinton administration initiative, changed the top leadership at the corporation. It replaced Leslie Lenkowsky, a Bush appointee and a former professor of public policy at Indiana University/Purdue University at Indianapolis, with David Eisner, a former executive with AOL/Time Warner.

Hope remains that Congress will appropriate $100 million in supplemental spending for the 20,000 slots that were cut, Mr. Scott said. Both chambers would have to agree to add that allotment to a bill that was still in a House-Senate conference committee late last week.

Next year is already shaping up to be much better for AmeriCorps. President Bush has said he wants the program to grow to 75,000 members in 2004. The House recently included enough funding for 55,000 AmeriCorps members in its appropriation for fiscal 2004, which begins Oct. 1. The appropriations bill for 2004 has not come up in the Senate, which has overwhelmingly supported AmeriCorps in the past.

Still, the cuts from this year sting.

Feeling the Squeeze

Though AmeriCorps members can choose to work in a variety of community-based organizations, such as homeless shelters, conservation groups, or neighborhood crime-watch campaigns, more than half work directly with K-12 education, according to Mr. Scott.

Through the New York City-based Teach For America, for example, AmeriCorps members teach in schools with large numbers of students who are deemed at risk for academic failure.

Full-time participants sign up for the AmeriCorps program for two years. They each receive an education award of $4,725, which must be used within seven years to pay college tuition or loans, and a living stipend of up to $9,300 a year, which AmeriCorps and local communities provide.

The loss of AmeriCorps workers in schools comes at a particularly difficult time, considering the big state budget cuts many administrators are facing this year, said Vincent L. Ferrandino, the executive director of the Reston, Va.-based National Association of Elementary School Principals.

“We’re being squeezed from all different angles,” he said. Because part of an AmeriCorps member’s duties is to recruit volunteers, schools that had AmeriCorps workers will likely see a decrease in their volunteers overall, Mr. Ferrandino predicted.

Charles Shelan, the executive director of the Olympia, Wash.-based nonprofit organization Community Youth Services, recently found out he will no longer have any of his 44 AmeriCorps workers for the region. “That means that services to 38 schools and nonprofits in three counties are going to be severed immediately,” he said.

AmeriCorps members in those schools worked as reading tutors, organized homework clubs, helped with playground supervision, and staffed after-school programs, he said.

“It is about like an earthquake, really, in our community,” Mr. Shelan said of the loss.

After-school programs have been especially hard hit; at least a third of them nationwide use AmeriCorps workers, said Judy Samuelson, the executive director of the Afterschool Alliance, a Washington-based advocacy group.

Some programs “have lost all of their volunteers, so they will have to reduce services,” she said. Others, she added, have closed down permanently.

If there’s been a “silver lining,” it’s the outpouring of support, said City Year’s Mr. Khazei. “It has been extraordinary ... to see this movement coming together in such a powerful way.”


This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Student Well-Being Webinar
A Whole Child Approach to Supporting Positive Student Behavior 
To improve student behavior, it’s important to look at the root causes. Social-emotional learning may play a preventative role.

A whole child approach can proactively support positive student behaviors.

Join this webinar to learn how.
Content provided by Panorama
Recruitment & Retention Live Online Discussion A Seat at the Table: Why Retaining Education Leaders of Color Is Key for Student Success
Today, in the United States roughly 53 percent of our public school students are young people of color, while approximately 80 percent of the educators who lead their classrooms, schools, and districts are white. Racial
Jobs January 2022 Virtual Career Fair for Teachers and K-12 Staff
Find teaching jobs and other jobs in K-12 education at the EdWeek Top School Jobs virtual career fair.

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Federal Citing Educator and Parent Anxieties, Senators Press Biden Officials on Omicron Response
Lawmakers expressed concern about schools' lack of access to masks and coronavirus tests, as well as disruptions to in-person learning.
5 min read
Dr. Rochelle Walensky, Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, left, and Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and chief medical adviser to the president, testify before a Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee hearing to examine the federal response to COVID-19 and new emerging variants, Tuesday, Jan. 11, 2022 on Capitol Hill in Washington.
Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, left, and Dr. Anthony Fauci, chief medical adviser to the president, testify at a Senate hearing about the federal response to COVID-19.
Greg Nash/Pool via AP
Federal Miguel Cardona Should Help Schools Push Parents to Store Guns Safely, Lawmakers Say
More than 100 members of Congress say a recent shooting at a Michigan high school underscores the need for Education Department action.
3 min read
Three Oakland County Sheriff's deputies survey the grounds outside of the residence of parents of the Oxford High School shooter on Dec. 3, 2021, in Oxford, Mich.
Three Oakland County Sheriff's deputies survey the grounds outside of the Crumbley residence while seeking James and Jennifer Crumbley, parents of Oxford High School shooter Ethan Crumbley, on Dec. 3, 2021, in Oxford, Mich.
Jake May/The Flint Journal via AP
Federal In Reversal, Feds Seek to Revive DeVos-Era Questions About Sexual Misconduct by Educators
The Education Department's decision follows backlash from former education Secretary Betsy DeVos and other conservatives.
4 min read
Illustration of individual carrying binary data on his back to put back into the organized background of 1s and 0s.
iStock/Getty Images Plus
Federal Biden Administration Lays Out Its Top Priorities for Education Grants
The pandemic's impact and a diverse, well-prepared educator workforce are among areas the administration wants to fund at its discretion.
2 min read
Education Secretary Miguel Cardona speaks during the daily briefing at the White House in Washington on Aug. 5, 2021.
U.S. Secretary of Education Secretary Miguel Cardona speaks during a White House briefing.
Susan Walsh/AP