Issue Position: American Community Initiative Plan
* Promote the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNS) to Cabinet Status. Through Executive Order, Chris Dodd will grant the Executive Director of the Corporation for National and Community Service a seat at the table with a promotion to the Cabinet. National service is an integral part of the American fabric and should be recognized as such.
* Mandate School-Based Service as a Requirement for High School Graduation. Under the Dodd plan, every student in America will be required to perform 100 hours of community-based service prior to high school graduation. Integrated with academics, school-based service will give every student in America an opportunity to gain new knowledge and skills while contributing to their communities and their own sense of pride. Service dollars will be provided to states based on school-aged population with additional dollars for technical assistance and program administration. States and schools districts will have the flexibility to tailor their individual programs and requirements to meet their community's immediate needs - all programs will be locally designed. The program is only mandatory when fully funded by the federal government. Participation in this fully funded program is a condition of federal education funding.
* Double the Size of the Peace Corps by 2011 and Again by 2050. From the Berlin Air Lift to efforts in the wake of the Indian Ocean tsunami, America has long led humanitarian efforts around the world for generations. Yet too often, the only face of America the world sees is through their evening news. As a result, our standing in the worldand in turn our securityhas been diminished. The Peace Corps has presented the world with the best of what America has to offer - a kind and generous nation that sends their best and brightest to help build communities around the world. As President, Chris Dodd will double the number of Peace Corps volunteers, expand the number of countries in which volunteers are stationed, and provide opportunities for Peace Corps volunteers to serve in their local communities when they return home.
* Dramatically Increase the Number of AmeriCorps Members to 1,000,000 and Immediately Raise the Amount of the Education Award. Currently 70,000 Americans serve our nation as AmeriCorps members. Every day these young people meet the pressing needs of local communities throughout the United States. We should build on the demonstrated success of AmeriCorps by growing the program to 1 million members by 2016 and by immediately increasing the education award from $4,725 to $6,655 to reflect the skyrocketing cost of tuition. Thereafter, the award will be annually indexed to the rise in 4-year public tuition rates.
* Create a Rapid Response Reserve Corps. National service programs have a proud tradition of working with local and federal governments to respond to natural disasters and national tragedies. Unfortunately, absent coordination, many volunteers who want to serve cannot be well leveraged or deployed. A National Service Reserves Corps with a focus on disaster preparedness and response will ensure that communities are prepared for disaster, that immediate needs are met after disaster strikes, and that volunteers are leveraged and coordinated in longer-term reconstruction phases. Building upon the successes of the Peace Corps Crisis Corps, Chris Dodd's Rapid Response Recovery Corps will utilize 21st Century technology to mobilize national service program alumni, as well as retired military and National Guard personnel, to respond to disasters in accordance with their training and experience. The Readiness, Response and Recovery Initiative would make funding available to: develop systems needed to ensure Corps Alumni are trained, available and ready to be deployed to emergency managers at the local, state, and national level when needed; provide living and travel expenses, as well as a base of support, to those called back into service; and provide ongoing assistance with rebuilding efforts. A Readiness, Response and Recovery program will initially train and leverage 50,000 National Service Alumni that can be deployed for 30-day periods in response to emergency need. Corps volunteers would not replace existing emergency or support personnel. There will be no job displacement under the Dodd plan.
* Build Corporate-Community Partnerships. A career should not prevent busy, but otherwise civic-minded Americans from serving. Chris Dodd believes that by encouraging employers to offer time off for volunteering, we can ensure that a career never stands in the way of serving one's community. Under the Dodd plan, the federal government will offer tax credits to employers who provide their employees with 40 hours of paid time-off to do community service every year. Employers will be reimbursed at a rate of 50% of salaries paid while on community service leave, up to $1,000 per employee. In addition to the tax credit, employers will benefit from the improved skills and morale of their workforce and their enhanced image in the community. By offering tax credits in exchange for time off for service, we will encourage more employers to become better stewards of their communities.
* Summer of Service for Middle and High School Students. By reaching children when they are young, the Dodd plan will foster a powerful connection to community, transforming a time when kids too often get into trouble into a positive, defining life experience. Summer of Service creates a competitive grant program that enables states and localities to offer middle and high school students an opportunity to participate in a structured community service program over the summer months. Through Summer of Service, students perform socially valuable, full-time community service for eight weeks over the summer in exchange for a small stipend plus a $500 higher education award for each Summer of Service for up to four summers. Summer of Service employs service-learning models to teach civic participation skills, help young people see themselves as resources to their communities, expand educational opportunities and discourage "summer academic slide" while providing tangible benefits to the communities in which projects are performed. Encouraging all youth, regardless of age, income, or disability, to engage in community service, Summer of Service will become a rite of passage for every young person in America.
* Senior Heroes Program. We can pass on no greater gift to future generations than the lessons of the past. Yet, too often, we fail to draw upon the experience, knowledge and ideas of our greatest generation. A Senior Heroes Program will provide such an opportunity by encouraging retired Americans already living longer, healthier lives to volunteer in our nation's schools. In exchange for giving 1,000 hours of their time in our nation's public schools, seniors will earn a $1,000 education award to further their own education or that of a designated child. Under the Dodd plan, Senior Heroes will be eligible to receive this award tax-free.
* Expand the National Senior Volunteer Corps. Nearly one-half million seniors participate in the three federally-funded programs known collectively as the National Senior Volunteer Corps - the Foster Grandparent Program (FGP), RSVP, and the Senior Companion Program (SCP). Together they provide opportunities for all seniors, regardless of their economic means, to serve their communities in ways that utilize their individual skills and wisdom. While serving, volunteers enjoy the mental and physical health benefits that accrue from helping others and feeling productive. The Dodd plan will expand these programs to ensure that the 77 million baby boomers, retiring in the coming years, are provided with ample opportunity to pass on their skills and talents by increasing the number of Foster Grandparents to 70,000, doubling the number of volunteers in the Senior Companion Program to 30,000, and expanding RSVP so that there is a program serving every community in America.
* Create a National Education Corps. National Service programs have been particularly effective at supporting students and schools. Building on that foundation, the Dodd Education Corps will leverage existing service programs like AmeriCorps and VISTA to focus additional national service resources on low-performing schools and school districts. Members of the specialized Education Corps could: Develop service-learning courses to engage and inspire students; organize extracurricular activities and coach sports teams; support technology programs; help students and families plan for and apply to college; help ESL students learn English; and support afterschool programs. The Education Corps will engage additional K-12 students in school-based service-learning, engage additional universities in Learn and Serve America Higher Education, and support thousands of additional AmeriCorps and AmeriCorps *VISTA members who wish to work in low-performing schools. There will be no job displacement under the Dodd plan.
* Engage Every K-12 Student in America in Service-Learning. Beginning in kindergarten and lasting through high school, every American student should have the opportunity to engage in a service-learning curriculum that integrates community service with classroom instruction to teach civic responsibility. The Dodd plan will grant money to states to support service-learning in every school district within the context of everyday school activities and in so doing, permit districts to tailor their programs to their specific needs.