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AmeriCorps Cuts Would Endanger Education Reforms

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It was just two years ago that the bipartisan Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act called for expanding national service from 50,000 to 250,000 members annually.

Who would have imagined that, just two years later, the House of Representatives would pass a budget that erases this important element of Senator Kennedy's legacy, stamping out promising progress in our young people.

There is growing national consensus about education reform strategies that work. We need to extend the learning day, provide individualized attention to off-track students, and use data to help get the right interventions to the right students at the right time -- just to name a few.

Our teachers and school leaders cannot do all this work by themselves. School districts need more human capital -- more people power -- to provide students in high-poverty schools with the extra help they need at the scale and intensity required. National service is a powerful answer. Yet just when AmeriCorps is needed the most, its funding is on the chopping block.

The federal budget bill passed by the U.S. House of Representatives zeroes out funding for the Corporation for National and Community Service, which would eliminate AmeriCorps entirely.

We should grow AmeriCorps, not cut it. In Boston, City Year AmeriCorps members are with students from 7:30 in the morning until 6:00 at night, working to close the achievement gap and turn around our lowest-performing schools.

They work side by side with our teachers to help find the early warning indicators that research shows will predict which students will drop out -- poor attendance, behavior and course performance -- and then tackle them head-on.

With friendly faces, encouragement, and signature red jackets, these highly trained young people greet each student by name every morning. They call the homes of absent students, work with students on English and math, and provide homework help, mentoring, and motivation.

City Year is just one example. Here in Boston, our children also benefit from Teach for America, Boston Teacher Residency, Citizen Schools, Sociedad Latina, the Hyde Square Task Force, Boston After School and Beyond, Freedom House, the Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative, and many other partners.

These groups provide safety nets that increase children's interest in education -- reducing the drop-out rate and helping students get the most out of what our great teachers offer. The proposed budget in Washington would harm many of these safety nets so deeply that our teachers would be forced to do much more with a lot less.

The House bill would demolish City Year and with it, strip our community of years of progress. Nationally, ninety percent of students who received literacy tutoring from City Year corps members improved their literacy scores. In Boston, City Year is working in ten schools, including five state-designated turnaround schools. Next year, our goal is to double the number of turnaround and other high-need schools served by teams of City Year AmeriCorps members.

Young men and women like Antonio Gutierrez make City Year so effective. He is spending his year of service at the Blackstone Elementary School, in the very neighborhood where he grew up.

"Teachers can seem like superheroes sometimes," Antonio wrote, "but they can only be in one place at a time. I know I'm making a difference. I can see it in students' coursework and also in the relationships I have built with them. They hug me every morning as they come into school."

Congress should say "yes" to this idealism and invest in the next generation of Americans. This is the legacy we must leave for our nation's future.