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Congress: Hurray for Community Service!

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So, last week, Congress got a lot of attention for a heated, rancorous debate over bonuses for AIG executives and employees. That basically overshadowed a much sunnier, bipartisan effort to bolster community service programs.

The Senate is set to consider the legislation this week. The Obama administration has already released a super-supportive statement on the bill which you can download here.

The bill, which was approved on a vote 321-105, has some pretty interesting little nuggets in it for education:

- It would establish a Summer of Service program, in which middle and high school kids could earn up to $500 to cover future education costs in exchange for helping out in their communities.

- It would create "Youth Engagement Zones" to help foster partnerships between community organizations and schools serving low-income kids to give students a chance to help out in their communities.

- It would create an Education Corps, to help improve student learning, engagement, and retention rates

"Volunteers play many roles," said Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., the chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee, during floor debate. "They teach in our classrooms. They clean up our trails and our public lands. They build and weatherize homes. They shelter the homeless and feed the hungry. That's what Americans do for one another. That's what Americans do in the name of service."

You can read a more thorough summary of the bill over at the House Education and Labor Committee's Web site.

In the House, the bill did have a fair number of detractors, including Rep. John A. Boehner, the former chairman of the House education committee, who is now the minority leader. But many of the Republicans on the House Education and Labor Committee, including ranking member Rep. Howard P. "Buck" McKeon of California voted for the measure.

Rep. Virginia Foxx, R-N.C., spoke for a number of the bill's critics when she said that it isn't really a government responsibility to support volunteerism.

"What this bill does is expands dramatically the government's role in an area that I don't think the government should be dealing with," Ms. Foxx said. "We're pretty soon going to have a government that controls everything in our society. That's not what America is all about."

Look for some of those arguments to be repeated on the Senate floor this week.

1 Comment

Boehner is worried (so he says) that "paid volunteerism" will take the place of organizations like the Boy Scouts. The Boy Scouts may have their problems, but that are not the result of the govt. providing low-paying service opportunities. In addition to the obvious benefits--such as City Year literacy support in low income school buildings, are some that have to do with capacity building (like being the organizers of A Day of Service that brings in many community folks, loaned execs and others to provide volunteer help on a number of projects) and the life experience given to many of the volunteer participants. I know of more than one young person who has decided on a career in teachign or in social work as a result of their service in City Year, VISTA, Americorps or other such entities. This doesn't even touch on the global experience provided to young people in the Peace Corps.

Handing out college tuition money for a year spent doing community work for a minimal stipend is a win-win. Hard to find the downside to that one.

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