March 11, 2021
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senator Angus King (I-Maine) highlighted the value of public service for both young Americans and the country at large, as well as the need for increased civics education in American schools. During his questioning in a hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Senator King and Commissioner Alan Khazei of the National Commission on Military, National, and Public Service agreed on the importance of civic education in high school curriculums, and the need to expand National Service programs such as AmeriCorps and Peace Corps to meet growing demand.
Senator King and Commissioner Khazei agree on the importance of civic education for young people.
SENATOR KING: “The necessity of greater civic education I don’t think can be overestimated. I think one of the great losses – and I don’t quite understand why it’s happened in the last 30, 40 years – has been the decline of civics, literally, civics in high school curriculum around the country.”
COMMISSIONER KHAZEI: “Senator, we completely agree with you on the issue of civics. And that’s why we recommended a new civics front with the Department of Education, $200 million a year, and are excited about the new legislation that’s being introduced today in a bipartisan fashion. Right now the federal government spends about $5 million a year on civics and spends over $3 billion on STEM and when the government committed on investing in STEM, STEM accelerated all around the country. We think the same commitment should be made in civics. And we heard it all everywhere we went, people raised the same concerned you did.”
Additionally, Senator King and Commissioner Khazei discussed how to bolster involvement in service programs, through opening more slots and increasing awareness of availability.
SENATOR KING: “Is this a question of communication where people don’t know the availability of these slots, or are there not enough slots? In other words, do we need more slots in AmeriCorps or the military or the other places where national service might take place. Or is it just a question of there are fewer people applying and therefore if we advertise more and make people aware of these options we’d have more participation? Which is it, is it communications or shortage of slots?”
COMMISSIONER KHAZEI: “It’s a little bit of both. There’s definitely a shortage of slots. AmeriCorps is roughly 75,000 a year, Peace Corps is about 7,000, Youth Build, all together about 8,000. So there’s less than 100,000 slots for that cohort of that 4-8 million people. And there’s way more demand. There’s programs all across the country that have way more people applying. The corporation gets request for funding that far exceeds their grant authority. So we think and we recommended there should be enough funding to get to 1 million people a year over 10 years. But there’s also questionable awareness. As we traveled the country, we found that very few people know about AmeriCorps and the option or opportunity to serve. So we think there needs to be both. Including people have misgivings or misunderstandings about the military as my fellow commissioner mentioned. So we do think there needs to be a new call to service effort that would link all three streams of service as well as increase support, especially on the civilian service side.”
In conclusion to today’s remarks, Senator King referenced his mother’s experience with scholarship and teaching service program.
SENATOR KING: “I have to say I was somewhat amused by the ‘new’ idea of service in exchange for college scholarship. My mother did that in the 20s, she had a scholarship to [The College of] William and Mary in Virginia and for every year for her scholarship, she was committed to teaching for a year in the Commonwealth of Virginia – and I think that would make a huge difference, either on the front or the backend. You can do the service before you go to school and earn credits towards your school or financial support towards your schooling. Or at the end of your schooling, you can do a service job and have a year of your costs forgiven. So I think it makes sense. It worked. It worked a 100 years ago and I suspect it may work again.”
Today’s hearing also featured testimony from other National Commission on Military, National, and Public Service top officials: Joseph Heck, Chairman; and Debra Wada, Vice Chair of Military Service. Senator King recognizes the benefits of National Service programs to Americans, and has long advocated for expanding civics education in American schools. and is a cosponsor of the Pandemic Response and Opportunity Through National Service Act , which would fund 750,000 national service positions over a three-year response and recovery period, to meet the projected need for as many as 300,000 public health workers. Under the bill, the number of AmeriCorps and national service positions could expand from 75,000 to 150,000 the first year and double to 300,000 in years two and three. Senator King has also introduced the bipartisan Constitutional education Is Valuable In Community Schools (CIVICS) Act in the last two Congresses, which aims to support the development of Constitution and civics education curriculum for students across the country.