President Obama and Speaker John Boehner agreed to $37.6 billion in cuts for FY11. Details are now leaking out of where those cuts will come from. Apparently while they would largely save AmeriCorps, they would completely defund Learn and Serve America, which is the arm by which the government encourages service learning.
Service-learning integrates community service into school curricula so students learn about scientific measurement by measuring the pollution in a local streambed, or learn about the Depression or WWI through oral history projects with shut-in seniors. The projects obviously vary depending on the underlying tie to the curriculum and the age of the students, but service learning is effective for students as young as kindergarten or as old as college-aged.
Defunding service learning ignores the fact that it is a highly cost-effective “four-fer”. First, studies show that students learn skills better where the underlying skills that teachers want to teach are inherent to a task that students need to perform; what is called an “educational pull” rather than “educational push” approach to teaching. Second, service learning is very inexpensive; students don’t need to be stipended, and teachers are already paid, so it is usually just the cost of materials or transportation or a part-time organizer/coordinator. That is why the $40 million in savings from defunding Learn and Serve America represents just 3% of the Corporation for National and Community Service’s budget but generates 70% of the community service participants! Third, it gets valuable service accomplished (feeding the homeless or turning an abandoned lot into a playground). And finally, it pays life-long returns. Studies show that youth who engage in community service at a younger age are much more likely to be actively engaged in volunteering and other forms of civic engagement throughout their whole lives. In that sense, down the road it likely leaves less of a need for future government since more of it is being done by active citizens; consider it preventative community maintenance. As the maxim goes: “As the twig is bent, so grows the tree.”
For more information on the cuts and what you can do see YSA’s page.