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Defunding Americorps: Do We Really Want to Take City Year Away From Schools?

The Republican leadership claims the dropout prevention program is wasteful spending. Have they ever spent time with City Year corps members?

With the budget impasse making a government shut down increasingly likely, calls for bipartisan compromise are coming fast and furious. One budget cut we should all hope the Obama Administration fights back against is the Republican plan to eliminate the Corporation for National and Community Service, the agency that oversees AmeriCorps. Young leaders participating in AmeriCorps programs like City Year work relentlessly to close the achievement gap and help kids stay in school. Given the statistics on dropouts—they are three times more likely to be unemployed than college grads and eight times more likely to be in jail or prison than high school diploma holders—this isn't a program our country can afford to lose.

This year, City Year placed 1,750 youth between the ages of 17-24 in 22 cities nationwide. They are serving full time as tutors, mentors and role models for low income, mostly minority children—the kids that research shows are most prone to dropping out. These "corps members" implement the program's service model, "Whole School, Whole Child," which addresses key drop out indicators: student attendance, grades and behavior. They also work to foster a positive school climate, engage parents and promote student service opportunities.

In City Year's fastest growing site, Los Angeles, over 50 percent of students currently drop out of school. To help combat that dismal statistic, 200 corps members are on site at 14 campuses by 7:15 a.m., ready to greet more than 18,400 students and get them motivated to learn. At the city's new Robert F. Kennedy Community School, a complex of six separate campuses educating over 4,200 students from K-12, corps member Ricky Cuellar sets up a DJ booth every morning as an attendance incentive. Kids that might not have otherwise come to school, head to campus, eager to hear him spin the latest hip hop and pop tracks.

Once the bell rings, Cuellar and his fellow corps members head into the classroom to support student learning. While teachers work with the larger group, corps members pull students for one-on-one remediation in key reading skills. Twenty-three-year-old Kimberly Harris will head to Princeton this fall to earn a Ph.D. in Political Science, but she's most proud of the hard work she's put in with the sixth graders she's worked with at RFK. "They've made great leaps in reading progress," she says. "Those who started at a primary level moved up to first grade level, and those at the first grade level are at the second grade level."

After the formal school day is over, Harris, Cuellar and RFK's other City Year corps members run an after school homework and tutoring program, staying on campus until at least 5:30 p.m. And, just when you thought they couldn't bring any more energy and positivity to the school, they host community events on Saturdays—fun and safe events like soccer tournaments—that kids and their parents can enjoy together.

The impact on student achievement and school culture at RFK isn't an isolated case. Ninety-four percent of teachers who've worked with a City Year corps member say they helped "improve the overall academic performance" of students, and when it comes to reading results, 90 percent of kids tutored by City Year corps members improved.

The non-profit's program team also offers corps members leadership development, and the combination of skill building and service has a lifelong impact. Studies show City Year alumni are 45 percent more likely to vote, 70 percent of them volunteer 10 hours per month, and 90 percent say the experience as a corps member helped them work with people from diverse backgrounds—all measures of civic enagement we need in the 21st century.

Does investing in a high quality program that stops the dropout crisis while raising up the next generation of leaders sound like "excessive, unnecessary, and wasteful spending," as House Appropriation's Chair Hal Rogers claims? Unfortunately, if the defunding of AmeriCorps goes through unchallenged, those 14 high-need public schools in Los Angeles—and in every other City Year site nationwide—will no longer have corps members around to help close the achievement gap and stop the dropout crisis. It's not too late to voice your opposition to such drastic cost-cutting. You can contact your Member of Congress here.

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