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Column: The case for City Year Detroit

Andrew Stein

At a time of deep partisan divide, we need more initiatives that cut across party lines and spur collaboration. We also need to invest in evidence-based, cost-effective, locally controlled strategies to improve student outcomes in Detroit’s public education system and build our city’s future workforce. City Year is a longstanding community service organization that has a demonstrated track record of advancing both of these goals, but unfortunately, potential cuts to federal funding may jeopardize its future.

This year, 71 young people from diverse backgrounds, ages 18-25, were selected from a competitive applicant pool to be City Year AmeriCorps members in Detroit, serving full time in seven public schools in the city. At each school, Ameri- Corps members serve 10+ hours, every day, providing academic and social emotional support to students. They specifically focus on improving student attendance, behavior and course performance in math and English, since students struggling in these areas are most at-risk of dropping out.

The model works. A third-party study found that schools that partner with City Year are two to three times more likely to improve on their math and English Language Arts assessments than schools without these dedicated AmeriCorps members.

Equally important, City Year offers a pipeline of young talent into Detroit. Nearly half of City Year AmeriCorps members are interested in teaching after their year of service, providing a tremendous pool to tap to fill open teacher positions in the cities where City Year serves, including Detroit. The value of the City Year experience is also recognized by a growing number of employers and nearly 90 educational institutions across the country. Deloitte for example, offers added incentives for program alumni to join their ranks, and the University of Michigan Law School issues a $30,000 scholarship to all City Year alumni who enroll.

City Year is exactly the type of investment we need to scale up in Detroit. That’s why it is troubling to read recent reports that funding for programs like AmeriCorps and Senior Corps may be eliminated in the White House’s fiscal year 2018 budget. Without AmeriCorps, organizations like City Year would lose critical funding and participants would lose the benefits associated with being a part of this federal program, which include student loan deferment and a nearly $6,000 education scholarship upon completion of a year of service.

The administration’s rationale for proposed cuts appears to be domestic budget efficiency, yet AmeriCorps is an incredibly cost-effective use of federal dollars. At City Year, for example, AmeriCorps provides 25 percent of the organization’s funding, which means that for every $1 of federal investment, $3 is matched from other local sources (mostly the business and philanthropic community). Moreover, the savings to our country are clear. A recent study out of Columbia University found that for every $1 of federal investment in AmeriCorps, there is a nearly $4 return to society in the form of higher earnings, increased outputs, and other community benefits.

It’s no wonder that for the past 23 years, AmeriCorps has been enthusiastically supported by both Republicans and Democrats from the local to federal level. In fact, Governor Snyder, a strong supporter of community service, just issued a proclamation designating March 4-11, 2017 as AmeriCorps Week in Michigan. Additionally, a recent poll by TargetPoint found that 83 percent of voters across nine presidential battleground states (including Michigan) want Congress to maintain or increase federal investment in AmeriCorps.

Young Americans want to serve their country through programs like AmeriCorps that are helping to address our nation’s most pressing social needs. Rather than allow national service to become a political bargaining chip, we must ensure they are afforded that opportunity.

Andrew Stein is the executive director of City Year Detroit. A City Year alumnus, he returned home to Detroit from Washington D.C. in 2015 to lead the organization.