’08 Candidates Call for National Service from America’s Youth

During the ’04 election John Kerry had included in his platform a call for national service that I thought was a worthy goal. Barack Obama is now adding a national call for service as part of his platform. No doubt, it will be decried by the right wing and libertarian types, which is a shame in my opinion.

Earlier this year when my daughter graduated from high school, she was required by her school to have some public service time on her high school record. I think it’s important to instill in our youth today that public service is a worthy ideal. I’m glad to see our candidates coming forward with proposals for service as John Kerry did in ’04. Here’s a look at Obama’s plan to help all Americans serve their country: 

  • Expand AmeriCorps from its current 75,000 slots to 250,000 slots, enabling the program to establish five new Corps that address some of America’s most pressing challenges: Classroom Corps, Health Corps, Clean Energy Corps, Veterans Corps, and Homeland Security Corps.
  • Engage retiring Americans in service on a large scale by expanding and improving Senior Corps, VISTA and other programs that connect individuals over the age of 55 to volunteer opportunities.
  • Double the size of the Peace Corps from 7,800 volunteers to 16,000 by its 50th anniversary in 2011 and work to partner volunteers with people from other nations. 
  • Establish an America’s Voice Initiative to recruit and train Americans that are fluent speakers of local languages to bolster our public diplomacy efforts abroad 
  • Create a national online network, modeled on Craigslist, to connect volunteers to service and donation opportunities
  • Establish a goal of having middle and high-schoolers contribute at least 50 hours a year to community service, and reach that goal through national guidelines for service-learning and additional resources for schools to develop successful programs. 
  • Connect disadvantaged youth to service opportunities and a pathway to success through the creation of Green Job Corps and the expansion of YouthBuild from 8,000 slots today to 50,000 slots over the next eight years.
  • Create a new American Opportunity Tax Credit to ensure that the first $4,000 of a college education is completely free for Americans willing to complete 100 hours of public service a year.
  • Promote College Serve-Study by immediately increasing the percentage of Federal Work-Study Program funding that goes to community service jobs from 7 percent to 25 percent, and helping colleges and universities reach a goal of 50 percent of serve-study over time.
  • Expand the capacity of the nonprofit sector by establishing a Social Investment Fund Network to provide R&D capital to encourage innovation, find out what works, and expand successful programs to scale across the country.
  • Create a Social Entrepreneurship Agency to enable nonprofits to build capacity through improved collaborations with government.

Obama’s full plan is available here. The YouthBuild program which Obama seeks to expand became a national program in 1992 thanks to the efforts of Senator John Kerry who introduced a bill that made YouthBuild a national program, enabling it to receive federal funding.

I did a little research and found Obama isn’t the only candidate with a national service plan. Hillary Clinton actually proposed legislation back in March for a Public Service Academy. Under Clinton’s plan, the Public Service Academy would “provide a four-year, federally-subsidized college education for more than 5,000 students a year in exchange for a five year commitment to public service following graduation.” Graduates of the Public Service Academy would serve their country for five years, creating a new generation of young people dedicated to public service.

The text of Clinton’s bill is available here.  Currently there are 15 bi-partisan co-sponsors of the legislation including presidential candidate Senator Joe Biden. Senator Obama is not a co-sponsor.

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2 Responses to ’08 Candidates Call for National Service from America’s Youth

  1. Thank you so much for highlighting the bill to create the U.S. Public Service Academy as the civilian counterpart to the military academies. Although Sen. Clinton has been a leader on this issue, the initiative extends far beyond her and her campaign. Visit http://www.uspublicserviceacademy.org to find out more about our effort.

    My Teach For America friend, Shawn Raymond, and I launched the Academy initiative a year and a half ago to help transform the way young people perceive, prepare for, and pursue public service. The response to our efforts has been overwhelmingly positive, particularly among young people. As you noted, our bill has bipartisan support in both the Senate and the House (we have 86 co-sponsors). Sen. Obama, unfortunately, is not among our co-sponsors yet.

    Sen. Obama’s call to service is inspiring, but I’m not sure why he did not embrace the Public Service Academy. His ideas are laudable, but he does not offer a solution to problems of the public sector — we need to do more to get young people to commit their lives, not just a year or two, to serving the American people.

  2. Darrell Prows says:

    We either have to get some enlightened leadership in the Whitehouse, someone who knows how to keep our military on the sidelines like 99.99% of the time, or we need to restart the draft. And, yes, I could easily see public service as being an alternative to military service. The whole point, though is to make potential pain widely enough spread that we force ourselves to become less war like.