Historically, as noted by Toman and Leichtman in this journal issue, volunteering in America has been defined, supported, and acted upon by decades of members of the United States Congress. The Serve America Act is this decade's version of legislating volunteering. The following article was written by attorneys, and therefore utilizes the standard legal reference for citations, the Harvard Blue Book. The authors highlight the main points of the Act, as well as offer their conclusions of its feasibility.
~ Sarah Toman
The Serve America Act (hereafter referred to as the Act), a 2009 amendment to the National Service Act of 1990 [42 U.S.C. § 12501], was enacted to encourage citizens of the United States, regardless of age, income, geographic location, or disability, to engage in full-time or part-time national service [42 U.S.C. § 12501(b)(4)], to expand and strengthen service-learning programs through year-round opportunities, including opportunities during the summer months, to improve the education of children and youth and to maximize the benefits of national community service, in order to renew the ethic of civic responsibility and the spirit of community for children and youth throughout the United States [42 U.S.C. § 12501(b)(9)], and to increase service opportunities for the Nation's retiring professionals, including such opportunities for those retiring from the science, technical, engineering, and mathematics professions, to improve the education of the Nation's youth and keep America competitive in the global knowledge economy, and to further utilize the experience, knowledge, and skills of older individuals [42 U.S.C. § 1 2501(b)(l I)J. The major direction of the Act is to focus national service on the areas of national need such service has the capacity to address, such as improving education, increasing energy conservation, improving the health status of economically disadvantaged individuals, and improving opportunity for economically disadvantaged individuals [42 U.S.C. § 12501(b)(14)].
The implementation of the Act is through the Corporation for National and Community Service under the direction of a Chief Executive Officer appointed by the President with the advice and consent of the Senate [42 U.S.C. § 1 265 lc(a)]. This Chief Executive Officer has the broad authority to prescribe such rules and regulations as are necessary or appropriate to carry out the national service laws [42 U.S.C. § 12651c(c)]. The funding of grants is based on a shared participation among federal, state, and local contributions. The contribution of the Corporation for new grants is specified by statute as not to exceed 80 per cent of the total cost for the first year of a grant, 65 per cent for the second year, and 50 per cent for the third year, as well as for all continuing grants [42 U.S.C. § 12528(a)(1)(A), (B)]. However, the Act has incentive matching funds to encourage states to create State Commissions to help manage the provisions of the Act [42 U.S.C. § 12576].
Although the emphasis of the Act is volunteering, the Act authorizes the creation of 88,000 positions in fiscal year 2010, increasing to 210,000 by fiscal year 2015, for persons to assist in implementing the Act [42 U.S.C. § 12571]. Matching funds from the Corporation and other entities will cover living allowances, employment-related taxes, health care coverage, and workers compensation, and other necessary operation costs [Al U.S.C. § 12571(e)(1)]. The maximum living allowance is set at not more than 200 per cent of the average annual subsistence for a VISTA volunteer, which a separate statute sets at a minimum of $125 and a maximum of $250 per month [42 U.S.C. § 12594; 42 U.S.C. § 4955].
Eligibility for these positions is governed by a separate section that designates the requirements and specifically includes such service areas as a VISTA volunteer, a participant in the National Civilian Community Corps, and the ServeAmerica Fellowship program [42 U.S.C. § 12573]. The Act establishes a competitive bidding process for funds but contains assurances that certain volunteer positions, such as those under VISTA and participants under the National Civil Community Corps Program, will have priority in funding [42 U.S.C. § 12581]. The Act imposes terms of service on those persons who accept service awards, with a person performing full-time service committed to not less than 1 700 hours for a maximum of one year and those performing part-time service committed for not less than 900 hours during a period of not more than two years [42 U.S.C. § 12593].
In order to accomplish its goals, the Act proposes the following changes: reinventing] government to eliminate duplication, requir[ing] measurable goals for performance [42 U.S.C. § 12501(b)(5)], encouraging participation of individuals age 55 or older and encouraging the continued participation of alumni of national service programs [42 U.S.C. § 12501(b)(12), (13)], increasing] the impact of social entrepreneurs and other nonprofit community organizations in addressing national and local challenges ... [by] increasing] public and private investment in nonprofit community organizations [42 U.S.C. § 12501 (b)(15)(16)], leveraging] Federal investments to increase State, local, business, and philanthropic resources to address national and local challenges [42 U.S.C. § 1250 l(b)(17)], supportfing] institutions of higher education that engage in community service activities [42 U.S.C. § 12501(b)(18)], and recognizfing] the expertise veterans can offer to national service programs [42 U.S.C. § 1 250 1 (b)( 1 9)] .
In Executive Order No. 13286 [68 FR. 10620], President George W. Bush on February 28, 2003, established The USA Freedom Corps, a group which was to work within the context of the Service America Act (the Act). The Freedom Corps, managed by a Council composed of representatives of various federal executive departments, agencies and offices, operated with the purpose of making public service opportunities available to all individuals. The compatibility of the Freedom Corps with the Act is reflected in a Freedom Corps policy statement to encourage all Americans to serve their country or the equivalent of at least two years (2,000 hours) over their lifetime [68 FR. 10620, § I].
The Service America Act, which runs to over 100 pages, has as its two major purposes the recruitment and utilization of adult volunteers to provide services to elementary and secondary students, and the designation of those disadvantaged students who will be the recipients of such service. Adult volunteers are defined in the Act as those who work without financial remuneration in an educational institution to assist students or out-of-school youth and who are beyond the compulsory school attendance in the State in which the educational institution is located [42 U.S.C. § 12511(I)(A, B)]. Disadvantaged youth, one of the major recipients of volunteer assistance, includes those who are economically disadvantaged, defined as persons of low income according to the latest available data, plus at least one or more of the following: those who are out-of-school youth, including out-of-school youth who are unemployed, those who are in or aging out of foster care, those who have limited English proficiency, those who are homeless or who have run away from home, those who are at-risk to leave secondary school without a diploma, those who are fanner juvenile offenders or at risk of delinquency, and those who are individuals with disabilities. [42 U.S.C. §12511(13)].
Allocation of funds under the Act are based on applications requiring proposals for a three-year plan containing assurances that students of different ages, races, sexes, ethnic groups, disabilities, and economic backgrounds have the opportunity to serve together. [42 U.S.C. § 12525(a)(2)(C)(i)]. Applications must also assure that the proposals promote service learning in areas of greatest need, including low-income or rural areas and otherwise integrate service opportunities into the academic program of the participants [42 U.S.C. § 12525(a)(2)(C) (iv), (v)]. Allotments are available to states, territories and Indian tribes, with special focus on Indian tribes and territories in that they are entitled to an amount not less than two per cent and not more than three percent for payments to Indian tribes, the United States Virgin Islands, Guam, American Samoa, and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands [42 U.S.C. § 12524(a)]. The amount ofthat allocation is sizeable when viewed in the context of the initial total appropriation of $316,550,000 [42 U.S.C. § 1265Ii].
Private nonprofit organizations (including private nonpublic schools) are entitled to participate on the same basis as public educational institutions. If states, Indian tribes, or local educational agencies prohibit participation by private non-profit schools, the Act contains a bypass provision whereby the Chief Executive Officer of the Corporation for National and Community Service can waive the restrictions and provide services directly by the federal government to students and teachers in such schools [42 U.S.C. § 12527(b)]. This bypass provision is similar to the one in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) that authorizes federal government bypass of services to students in religious schools where state law prohibit providing such services directly [20 U.S.C. § 1412(f)]. Community-based agencies can receive funds as long as they are representative of a significant segment of the community and are engaged in meeting human, educational, environmental, or public safety community needs [42 U.S.C. § 12511(10]. One of the controversial aspects of the Act is that community-based organizations can include a church or other religious entity [42 U.S.C. § 12511(10] which raises questions as to whether such funding violates the Establishment Clause. [U.S. Const., Amend. I. See generally, Stanley W. Carlson, Faith-Based Initiative 2.0: The Bush Faith-Based and Community Initiative, 32 Harv. JL. & Pub. Pol' y 931(2009)]. However, the Act's prohibition against using any funded assistance to engage in religious activities is probably sufficient to survive a constitutional challenge [42 U.S.C. § 12584(a)(4)]; see Ralph Mawdsley and Johan Beckmann , The U. S. Supreme Court Continues to Struggle with the Meaning of the Establishment Clause and Its Role in Assuring Fair and Balanced Treatment of Religion, 39 De Jure 60 (2006).
The Act also authorizes innovative partnership programs between one or more community-based entities and a local educational agency. The community-based agencies must be those that have demonstrated records of success in carrying out service-learning programs with economically disadvantaged students and the educational agency must contain a high number of disadvantaged youths and must have a graduation rate less than 70 per cent [Al U .S .C . § 12563]. The Act provides that not more than 25 institutions of higher education, designated as campuses of service, can be authorized to apply for funds under the Act [42 U.S.C. § 1256Ia]. Applications must include such information as the undergraduate and graduate service-learning courses offered, the percentage of undergraduate and graduate students enrolling in the courses and providing community services, the amount and quality of time spent in such services, and the number of recent graduates who have obtained full-time public service employment in the non-public sector or government [42 U.S.C. § 12561a(b)(2)]. Funds allocated under this section must be used to develop or disseminate service-learning models and information on best practices regarding service-learning to other institutions of higher education [Al U.S.C. § 12561a(d)(l)].
Recipients of grants under the Act are required to use a portion of the grant to address unmet needs in one or more of a variety of areas under what is referred to as a National Service Corps. These areas include the Education Corps, Healthy Futures Corps, Clean Energy Service Corps, Veterans Corps, and Opportunity Corps [42 U.S.C. § 12572]. The common denominator of all of these Corps is services to disadvantaged youth but other foci are also present. The Education Corps not only provides tutoring and mentoring for students, but also involves family members of students in supporting teachers and students and uses skilled musicians to promote greater community unity through the use of music and arts education [Al U.S.C. § 12572(a)(l)(B)(viii),(xi)]. The Healthy Futures Corps assists individuals in obtaining access to health services, including oral health services, improves the literacy of patients regarding health, and provides services to meet the health needs of rural communities, including the recruitment of youth to work in health professions in such communities [Al U.S.C. § 12572(a)(2)(B)(ii),(iv),(vi)]. The Clean Energy Service Corps addresses a wide range of services, including weatherizing and retrofitting housing units for low-income households, building energy-efficient housing units in low-income communities, assisting in the development of local recycling programs, cleaning and improving rivers maintained by the Federal Government or a State, and providing service through a full-time, year-round youth corps program [Al U.S.C. § 12572(a)(3)(B)(i),(ii),(vi)(x)]. The Veteran Corps promotes such purposes as community-based efforts to meet the unique needs of military families, recruiting veterans into service opportunities, assisting veterans in developing mentoring relationships with economically disadvantaged students, and developing projects to assist veterans with disabilities [Al U.S.C. § 12572(a)(4)(B) (i),(ii),(v),(vi)]. The Opportunity Corps is a broad catch-all largely duplieating the work the other Corps, including such items as building housing units, assisting in obtaining health services, creating availability for job training, and addressing hunger [42 U.S.C. § 12572(a)(5)]. The Act also provides under a separate section for the establishment of a National Community Corps Program whereby participants with work skills will be trained in team building, discipline, leadership, work, citizenship, and physical conditioning for service as teams assigned to campuses that furnish employment and training skills to disadvantaged youth [42 U.S.C. § 12612-2618].
A major focus of the Act is to design and implement partnership programs between federal agencies and elementary and secondary schools with the goals being to expand the opportunities of employees of such agencies to be adult volunteers in schools and for students and outof-school students [42 U.S.C. § 12642]. However, the Act specifically provides that none of the funds from the Corporation can be used to endorse, approve, or sanction any curriculum designed to be used in an elementary or secondary school [42 U.S.C. § 12645f].
Certain categories of organizations are not eligible for funding. Any national service position cannot be used to perform service that provides a direct benefit to a business organized for profit, a labor union, or a partisan political organization [42 U.S.C. § 125 84(a)(1), (2) ,(3)]. Religious organizations, while not disapproved facially to utilize a national service position, cannot use any assistance under the Act to engage in religious activities, that includes giving religious instruction, conducting worship services, constructing facilities devoted to religious education or worship, or engaging in any form of proselytization [42 U.S.C. § 12584(a)(4) (A),(B),(C),(D),(E)].
Upon completion of their full-time service, participants will receive a national educational award having a value equal to the maximum of a Federal Pell Grant as calculated under the Higher Education Resources and Student Assistance Act, while part-time participants receive an award equal to 50 percent of the full-time award [42 U.S.C. § 12603(a), (b); 20 U.S.C. § 107Oa]. Use of these award funds is specified in the Act: repayment of student loans, paying the cost of attendance at a higher education institution, paying expenses as a result of participation in a school-towork program, payment of expenses in education or training programs provided by the Secretary of Defense, and paying interest expenses [42 U.S.C. § 12604(a)].
The Act concludes with a comprehensive annual evaluation process that includes: comparing participants in the program with those who had not participated, conducting the evaluation by persons who had not been directly involved in the program, assessment of the program according to standards to be designed by the Corporation, consideration of the opinions of participants and members of the communities, comparison of the effectiveness of different program models, and compliance with program objectives [42 U.S.C. § 12639]. Included in the demographics is examining the total number of participants by sex, age, economic background, education level, ethnic group, disability classification, and geographic region [42 U.S.C. § 12639(i)(l)(B)(ii)]. A special provision of the Act requires that a study be conducted not later than three years after the effective date of the Serve America Act with a report to Congress. Essentially, this study of veterans will examine the number of veterans participating and how to improve the utilization of veterans [42 U.S.C. § 1265Ik]. Although the Corporation is mandated to produce a report, the Act assures, in the absence of consent, that confidentiality of information will apply to all participants [42 U.S.C. § 12639(h)(2)(B)].
The Serve America Act is a jumble of good intentions. While its purpose of assisting disadvantaged students is a noble one, nothing in the Act assures that the proposed incentives for voluntarism will become systemic nor that the changes effected will be systematic. The Act is so long and complicated that one can have little assurance that a significant number of disadvantaged students will receive benefit under the Act or that whatever benefit they may derive will be continued into the next year. The notion that persons can be induced to be volunteers in exchange for financial benefits is counter to the notion that voluntarism is motivated by the desire to help others. While the financial incentives afforded by the Act will not make those receiving the benefits to be employees of the federal, state, or local governments, it remains to be seen whether the incentives will serve to attract the kind of volunteers whose real goal is helping students to achieve.
About the authors
Ralph D. Mawdsley is Professor of Educational Administration and The Roslyn Z. Wolf Endowed Chair in Urban Educational Leadership at Cleveland State University, Cleveland, Ohio. He earned the JD at the University of Illinois and the PhD at the University of Minnesota and is licensed to practice law in Illinois and Minnesota. In addition, he was awarded an honorary doctorate (D.Ed. - honoris causa) from the University of Pretoria, South Africa in 2010 for his contribution to education law and his work with doctoral students. He has been the recipient of two Fulbright Awards to South Africa and Australia in the area of education law and has over 500 publications to his credit in that field. Prior to his tenure at Cleveland State University, he was a county prosecutor, a religious K-12 school teacher and administrator, and a religious university's in-house legal counsel. Contact him as follows:
Ralph D. Mawdsley,
Professor of Educational Administration
Department of Counseling, Administration, Supervision, and Adult Learning
Cleveland State University
2121 Euclid Avenue, Rhodes Tower, Room 1419
Cleveland, OH 44115. 216-523-7148
James Mawdsley earned the BA in English at Yale, the MA in English Language and Literature at Kent State University, and the JD at Cleveland State University. He is an instructor of English at Stark State College of Technology and an Adjunct Professor in school law at Cleveland State University. He has published in several law journals and has a chapter in Sage Publication's Encyclopedia of Education and Law. Contact him as follows:
James L. Mawdsley
1538 Cambridge Ave. SW
North Canton, OH 44709
jmawdsle @y ahoo.com…