People are the Currency of Change

Melinda Hudson

At a recent Capitol Hill briefing releasing new research from Service Year Alliance, there was one stat that made me put down my box lunch and really listen: National service operates in 1 in 4 of our lowest performing schools.

This is amazing—but sobering.

One in four is simply not enough if you are poor, black or brown, English is not your first language, or if you have special needs. These are the young people who make up the majority of students in low-performing schools—schools starved for both financial and human capital.

National service doesn’t affect how schools are funded, but it does have a role to play in helping young people graduate, particularly when it comes to those who serve by mentoring.

Young people tell us that some of the most effective student support is the persistent presence of caring adults who help them envision and work toward a better future. In Who’s Minding the Neighborhood, the Center for Promise found that simply increasing adults in a neighborhood is enough to decrease the dropout rate.

national-service-reportEvery young person who does not complete his or her education will ‘cost’ taxpayers nearly $300,000 over his or her lifetime through lost tax revenue, increased social services, and incarceration. The personal costs to our young people are staggering, as is our loss as a nation of the unrealized talent and potential of our brothers and sisters.

But national service is that ounce of prevention that is worth a pound of cure. Every federal dollar we spend on national service is matched by private, state, and community funds.

Last year, the amount generated by the Corporation for National and Community Service—$1.26 billion—exceeded the federal appropriations, as reported in The Role of National Service in Improving Elementary and Secondary Education Outcomes in Low-income Schools. Every one of those dollars returns an average of four dollars in value.

The politics make sense, too. Polling across party lines consistently shows high support for maintaining or increasing investment in national service. And people are often voting with their lives.

Every year, a couple of hundred thousand people offer themselves in service to fixing some of the biggest challenges of our times—from hurricanes and fires to illiteracy or housing crises.  Responding to disasters both man-made and environmental, service responders are rebuilding the dreams of others as well as their own. 

People are the currency of change. National service puts more people on the problems—more shoulders against the grindstone of poverty; more helping hands for teachers, coaches, caregivers; more fellow travelers for justice; and more hopeful hearts to rekindle dreams.

We have the capacity to deploy human capital at the scale to ensure that EVERY low performing school has the people power it needs to make up for the disadvantages heaped upon under-resourced communities. The Kennedy Serve America Act calls for expansion of AmeriCorps members from today’s 80,000 to 250,000 to help meet the education, housing, and disaster response needs of the nation. That would be a good start. 

To learn more about the benefits of national service, visit The Role of National Service in Improving Elementary and Secondary Education Outcomes in Low-Income Schools and The Role of National Service in Closing the Graduation Gap.

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