Since 1994, more than 900,000 individuals—Teach For America’s corps members and alumni among them—have stepped up through AmeriCorps and the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS) to make this nation a better place. Collectively, they’ve put in more than one billion hours of work to do their part in building a stronger America.

But today, Congress is poised to drastically cut the funding that enables this work—the proposed House bill reduces funds for CNCS (AmeriCorps’ parent agency) by more than a third, and the Senate bill would cut AmeriCorps funding by $65 million. As one of the many organizations that owe a great deal to AmeriCorps, we’re outraged by this.

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I understand Congress faces tough fiscal realities. But research out of Columbia University in 2013 showed that, for every federal dollar invested in national service, we get nearly four times the return in higher earnings, increased output, and other community-wide benefits.
By cutting AmeriCorps and CNCS funding, Congress deprives our nation of that return at a time when we don’t have resources to waste. We see that acutely at Teach For America – demand for our teachers is at an all-time high, but we can’t fill that need without AmeriCorps support in recruiting a diverse corps. We need as many great leaders to join this effort as we can get.

Over the past 25 years, Teach For America has brought 50,000 leaders together around the belief that all kids deserve an excellent and equitable education. Today, we’re the single largest provider of teachers for low-income communities, and we’re proud that our teachers come to this work from incredibly diverse backgrounds in all respects. AmeriCorps helps make our economic diversity, in particular, possible.

Their loan forbearance, interest repayments and education awards –$11,550 for education over two years—help lessen the economic barriers for our corps members when choosing to enter a tragically underpaid field.

Our teachers’ work is an act of community, not charity. We’re grateful to AmeriCorps and CNCS for helping to change the narrative that work helping others is only open to a privileged few.

It helped change that narrative for me. Seventeen years ago, I was a senior in college, trying to figure out what to do next. I grew up in one of our nation’s poorest counties—I could name just two adults in my neighborhood with a college degree, but I made it to DePauw University and my life trajectory changed because of it. I wanted other kids to have the opportunities that I had; I wanted to dedicate my life to expanding educational opportunity for all.

I wanted to join Teach For America. But I also had loans to repay and not much money to transition somewhere far from home. Certification was going to be expensive.

AmeriCorps funding allowed me to be a part of the change. It paid the interest on my loans while I was teacher and allowed me to defer my loan repayment until after the corps, and the education award helped me afford certification. As the CEO of Teach For America today, I know I’m one of thousands upon thousands with this story. AmeriCorps funding makes a difference for all our teachers, whether in helping to defer and repay loans, fund certification, or support further studies. Now that funding hangs in the balance, and we need to make sure it’s protected.

At Teach For America, we share a fierce belief in our nation’s children--and alongside many others, we’re dedicated to leaving them a better country than the one in which they were born. Congress can help us do so. If they choose to preserve AmeriCorps and CNCS funding, they’ll harness the power of our nation’s greatest natural resource—our people.

Villanueva Beard is CEO of Teach For America.