Univision: “Congress must invest in AmeriCorps and our students”

Note: This op-ed originally ran in Spanish on Univision.com.

By Kimberly Benavides,
Executive Director, Reading Partners North Texas

We’re facing a student literacy crisis in North Texas. According to the 2022 NAEP assessment, only 18 percent of our state’s fourth graders experiencing economic disadvantages were proficient readers for their grade level. Answering this need, AmeriCorps members are embedded within Reading Partners, tutoring children from under-resourced communities in our region every day. It’s why our lawmakers should invest in AmeriCorps, not slash its funding.

We partner with 20 local schools to implement one-on-one tutoring programs that allow so many students to reach and, in many cases, exceed their literacy goals. But we can’t do that without AmeriCorps’ help. Just last year in Texas, 17,000 AmeriCorps members worked with locally led community service programs, like Reading Partners. It’s not only good for our state, but it’s an effective use of our tax dollars as well: as a public-private partnership, every federal dollar invested in AmeriCorps yields a $17 return in community benefits.

But after thirty years of vital national service work across the country, the U.S. House of Representatives has proposed cutting a significant chunk of AmeriCorps’ budget and eliminating more than 61,000 AmeriCorps service positions. This would be a serious mistake. A gutted AmeriCorps would mean that many students in our community would receive inadequate support in reading. The cuts’ effects would also ripple nationwide, as AmeriCorps members help with natural disaster relief, care for senior citizens, and mentor kids.

The progress that students make with Reading Partners tutoring is astounding. Samantha Melanson, who tutors students at Alice Contreras Elementary in Fort Worth, remarked, “When my student completed the reading fluency activity for the first time, he dreaded it and just wanted to be done as quickly as possible. Now, weeks later, my student is excited to show me how well he can read the story.” Another member, Valerie Mitchell, shared, “When I first started, the student could hardly read. Within a week, there was a 180-degree turn. She has progressed since then; her teacher has noticed the improvement.” Our students not only improve their reading skills, but they also grow as people. Kathy O’Toole remarked that her tutoring helped a quiet Mount Auburn Elementary student open up and allowed his personality to shine through.

But any budget cuts to AmeriCorps would devastate our ability to help these students. In fact, if the House cuts go through, we’d lose many of our AmeriCorps members in future years, hampering students’ ability to thrive.

Reading Partners, with AmeriCorps’ support, gets results: about 83 percent of students improved their social-emotional learning skills by the end of the school year. Last year, 100 percent of the principals of schools we partner with reported school-wide progress, and 85% of Reading Partners students met or exceeded their end-of-year literacy growth goal.

Without AmeriCorps members, many of these children would not receive the help they need. Remember, if our children can’t read, they won’t learn; and if they don’t learn, then they won’t have the same opportunities afforded to many others who do.

I urge Congresswoman Kay Granger, who both represents our communities and leads the House Appropriations Committee, to reject defunding AmeriCorps. Instead, Congress should invest in the agency’s important work, as proposed by a bipartisan group of senators, including Texas Senator John Cornyn. I also thank the other members of Congress from our state – Republicans and Democrats – who have stood up for AmeriCorps. The evidence is clear: our schools, and countless other communities, need AmeriCorps.

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