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Education Reporter

Getting Paid for Volunteering?
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In March, Congress passed the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act, which will triple the number of Americans serving in AmeriCorps and similar programs in the next eight years. The act reauthorizes the National and Community Service Trust Act of 1993 and creates several new programs directed at schoolchildren, at a cost of $6 billion between 2010 and 2015.

President Obama called the Serve America Act "the boldest expansion of opportunities to serve our communities and our country since the creation of AmeriCorps." He further said the law was "just the beginning of a sustained, collaborative, and focused effort to involve our greatest resource — our citizens — in the work of remaking this nation."

The bill creates a new Education Corps, modeled after AmeriCorps, for full-time volunteers to work in schools. Other programs, including the Youth Engagement Zone program, make grants available for schools and community organizations to involve high school students and high school dropouts in community service.

The Summer of Service program will award $500 for college tuition or loans to middle or high school students who spend 100 hours volunteering. These programs will be administered by the Learn and Serve America Arm of the Corporation for National and Community Service.

AmeriCorps workers have repeatedly been caught lobbying and working for the political goals of the left, often in ways that violate federal law. Sen. David Vitter (R-LA) tried unsuccessfully to insert an amendment into the Serve America Act to prohibit the infamous and corrupt community-organizing group ACORN from receiving funds through AmeriCorps.

In 2000 in the American Spectator, James Bovard dismantled AmeriCorps as ineffective and bureaucratic, and showed that AmeriCorps "volunteers" were actually paid almost $12 an hour when all of the government benefits, including a stipend, free child care, health insurance, and more, which they received were taken into account. Bovard warned, "In the future, all high school students could be forced to 'serve their country' the AmeriCorps way; many of the program's supporters hope that AmeriCorps will be a stepping stone to laws compelling all young Americans to surrender their time in government-approved 'service' activities."

Nick Gillespie, editor-in-chief of Reason.com, directed searing criticism at the expansion of federalized community service. He called attention to the fact that AmeriCorps and other Serve America "volunteers" perform "paid service while those participating and spending your tax dollars luxuriate in the silky-smooth language of altruism. Which, last time I checked, was supposed to be free. Jesus rendered unto Caesar; he didn't ask for a block grant from Pontius Pilate in return. That Obama pushes national service and voluntarism even as he works to limit tax breaks for charitable giving that drives all sorts of philanthropy is a classic screw-you, my-way-or-the-highway move." (Reason.com, 4-22-09)

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