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By J.B. Wogan November 21, 2012

After an initial boost, service learning lost federal support

During his 2008 bid for the presidency, Barack Obama campaigned mainly on education, clean energy, health care and foreign policy. But he also made 14 pledges about public service, including one about expanding service learning opportunities in schools.

In a fact sheet about public service, Obama said he believed that middle and high school students should perform 50 hours of community service each year. To make this happen, he said his administration would create national guidelines for service-learning and community service programs. He also promised to give schools new tools to develop programs and to document students' service.

Initially, Obama seemed to be on a path to fulfilling his campaign promise. In his first budget, Obama secured a 5 percent increase in funding for Learn and Serve America, the federal program focused on recruiting public school students for volunteer projects. For context, Congress had appropriated roughly $37 million in 2008 and again in 2009, but increased the amount to $39.5 million in 2010.

In 2011, however, the program became a target for Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives. Despite requests from the White House to preserve the program, the enacted budgets for 2011 and 2012 included no money for Learn and Serve America. Obama isn't requesting any money for Learn and Serve in his 2013 budget.

Samantha Warfield, a spokeswoman for the Corporation for National and Community Service, said the agency is using other means to incorporate community service as an educational tool. For instance, a 2012 AmeriCorps competitive grant application process gives points for proposed service learning programs that would result in better school attendance, increased completion of homework and a change in attitude about school.

Nevertheless, the main vehicle for service learning in schools lost its funding in the past three years, the opposite of Obama's policy intention. We rate this a Promise Broken.

Our Sources

Interview with George Wood, Coalition of Essential Schools, Nov. 20, 2012

Email interview with Samantha Warfield, Corporation for National and Community Service, Nov. 20, 2012

Corporation for National and Community Service, Congressional budget justification, Fiscal year 2013 (accessed on Nov. 20, 2012)

Orlando Sentinel, Nonprofits fear GOP plan to scrap national-service funds, Feb. 17, 2011

The Dallas Morning News, Federal cuts threaten AmeriCorps service program in Dallas area, March 26, 2011

Congressional Quarterly Today, Democrats Salvage Funding for Controversial Social Policy Programs, April 12, 2011

States News Service, Update on 2011 national service budget, April 18, 2011

The Chronicle of Philanthropy, Government Must Do More to Help Nonprofits Make Use of Volunteers, Aug. 19, 2012

Louis Jacobson
By Louis Jacobson January 12, 2010

Spending bill boosts Learn and Serve America

During the presidential campaign, Barack Obama promised to promote "service learning" -- that is, integrating community service projects with classroom learning. The administration stated support for middle and high school students engaging in community service for 50 hours a year during the school year or summer months.

To advance this goal, Obama promised to "develop national guidelines for service-learning and community service programs, and ... give schools better tools both to develop successful programs and to document the experience of students at all levels. They will encourage programs that engage with community partners to expand opportunities for community service and service-learning opportunities, so that students can apply what they learn in the classroom to authentic situations that help the community. These programs will also involve citizens from the community engaging students in service opportunities through the Classroom Corps."

The main federal vehicle for service learning is Learn and Serve America, which is operated by the Corporation for National and Community Service. Learn and Serve America provides direct and indirect support to K-12 schools, community groups and higher education institutions to promote service-learning projects.

The final fiscal year 2010 appropriations bill gave a 5 percent boost to Learn and Serve America, rising to $39.5 million from its 2009 level of $37.5 million. The final amount was exactly what the president had requested. The corporation said that is enough to support 1.3 million participants, increase the number of disadvantaged youth participating and begin a 10-year study on the impact of service-learning.

We were unable to locate any indication that program officials have developed "national guidelines" since Obama took office. Until then, we won't call it a Promise Kept. But the administration has definitely done enough to earn a rating of In the Works.

Our Sources

Corporation for National and Community Service, "Congress Approves Historic Budget Increase for National Service" (news release), Dec. 14, 2009

Corporation for National and Community Service, budget chart, accessed Jan. 12, 2010

Corporation for National and Community Service, "What Is Learn and Serve America?" (web page), accessed Jan. 12, 2010

Corporation for National and Community Service, "What Is Service-Learning?" (web page), accessed Jan. 12, 2010

Interview with Lewis Cohen, executive director of the Coalition of Essential Schools, Jan. 12, 2010

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