A few weeks ago, the White House released a fiscal year 2018 budget blueprint that calls to eliminate the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS), which manages AmeriCorps, Senior Corps, and Social Innovation Fund (SIF) programs. This action would have damaging effects on our community as well as communities nationwide, harming the D.C. educational landscape and disadvantaging our young people.
CNCS funds more than 3,000 organizations across the U.S.; in the D.C. metro area, these include impactful nonprofits such as Reading Partners, the organization I have the honor to lead, as well as Higher Achievement, City Year, Teach for America, and Literacy Lab, to name just a few.
Losing CNCS funding would tremendously reduce the capacity of these organizations — and many others — to ensure that D.C. students achieve foundational literacy and STEM skills and receive appropriate college and career preparation. Tens of thousands of students in the D.C. area currently benefit from enrichment programs that are supported by CNCS funding and the AmeriCorps members who selflessly serve our local students and communities. At Reading Partners, fully 65 percent of our internal nationwide workforce comes from AmeriCorps, which is a primary reason our organization is so efficient in mobilizing community volunteers to provide one-on-one reading support to students in under-resourced public elementary schools and equipping them with the foundational skills they need to be able to read at grade level by fourth grade.
Despite a long history of strong bipartisan support for national service, the White House budget puts CNCS, and organizations that benefit from CNCS funding, at risk of elimination. Over 83 percent of voters are in favor of Congress maintaining or increasing federal investment in national service (including 78 percent of Republicans), in large part because national service is highly cost-effective. For every one dollar the federal government invests in national service, there is a nearly four dollar return on investment, demonstrating the valuable economic role of national service in lifting up and empowering our communities.
Simply stated, AmeriCorps members change lives in the D.C. community. Nearly 1,000 students at 20 D.C. elementary schools receive literacy intervention from Reading Partners AmeriCorps members serving as site coordinators and literacy leads. Several other evidence-based organizations rely on this resource as well. Higher Achievement currently utilizes six AmeriCorps members to help prepare 500 middle-school students for top academic high school programs. And Literacy Lab depends on 92 AmeriCorps literacy instructors to support its 2,000 young readers. All of this critical support for students is at grave risk without AmeriCorps.
Organizations like Reading Partners and the others highlighted above offer an essential connection between local community members and D.C. Public Schools. Through AmeriCorps service and volunteer engagement, we bring the community into our schools, providing a network of support and educational opportunities. By fostering positive relationships between AmeriCorps members and students, our organizations offer mentors and role models to students who need them most.
While the White House’s proposed elimination of CNCS would invariably harm D.C. communities, it’s important to remember that it is ultimately up to Congress to determine which federal programs are actually funded and at what levels. That’s why it is imperative for communities like ours to take action this week — by Friday, April 28 — to persuade Congress to maintain or even increase funding for CNCS. Doing so will enable proven
nonprofits like Reading Partners to continue providing indispensable service to thousands of children in D.C. and across the country.
A great way to speak up is to use an easy online tool
created by Voices for National Service that allows individuals to contact their local congressional representatives and express support for preserving, rather than eliminating, AmeriCorps funding. We have until April 28 to convince Congress that it should keep funding at its previously recommended levels. How you can take action:
Please join Reading Partners and so many other valued community nonprofits in speaking up for D.C. students.
Karen Gardner is the executive director of Reading Partners, Washington, D.C.