- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Students from across the country have come to the District this week to rally support in Congress for legislation to create a national Public Service Academy that would offer college-bound students free education in exchange for five years of public service.

Bills in the House and Senate call for a school modeled after the four U.S. military academies.

“These students would begin at the ground level - as teachers, or beat [police] officers or low-level administrators,” said Christopher Myers Asch, a former AmeriCorps volunteer and author of the proposal.

Public service re-emerged in the public discourse when the presumptive Democratic and Republican presidential nominees began making the issue a key part of their political campaigns.

“Loving your country must mean accepting your responsibility to do your part to change it,” said Sen. Barack Obama, Illinois Democrat. “If you do, your life will be richer, our country will be stronger.”

He called for more nurses, teachers, soldiers and Peace Corps and AmeriCorps volunteers.

Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican, said the country “made a mistake” after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks: “Instead of telling Americans to take a trip or go shopping, I think we had an opportunity to call Americans to serve.”

“I think this generation is one being called to service in a different way,” said Beth Camphouse, 21, a James Madison University student who helped organize the nearly 100 students expected to call upon members of Congress and attend a conference at George Washington University. “People look at a place like West Point and say, ‘Wow, people who go here have really made a commitment.’ This academy would do the same thing.”

Mr. Asch said thinks the attention to public service might work against the legislation, which has sat for months in the House Education and Labor subcommittee on higher education, lifelong learning and competitiveness.

“It’s difficult for a bill like this to get oxygen during an election year,” he said.

The proposal calls for 5,100 top students from across the country and around the world, as well as a freshman class of 1,300. Students would need a congressional nomination - the same process used by the military academies. Like cadets at West Point in New York and midshipmen at the Naval Academy in Annapolis, students at the proposed service academy would have to wear uniforms.

Supporters want the school in the District and say operations would cost about $205 million a year.

In addition to having high-profile sponsors - Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, New York Democrat, and Sen. Arlen Specter, Pennsylvania Republican - the bill has support from local officials, including Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin, Maryland Democrat; Rep. James P. Moran, Virginia Democrat; D.C. Mayor Adrian M. Fenty, a Democrat; and Virginia Delegate M. Kirkland Cox, Colonial Heights Republican. It also has the backing of Catholic Charities USA and the Virginia State Police Association.

“We have seen at organizations like FEMA … how the political appointee process can go wrong,” said retired Lt. Gen. David Palmer, a political appointee and former West Point president. “With an academy like this, we can train leaders who will hopefully choose public service as a profession, and move up the ladder.”

One critic of the plan is former George Washington University President Steve Joel Trachtenberg, who said universities already have programs to attract young people to the public sector.

“This is an answer in search of a problem,” he said recently.

Sixty percent of the federal work force, and up to 90 percent of upper-level managers in the federal government, will be eligible for retirement before the end of the decade, according to studies. The academy could provide a trained pool of job applicants to fill the gap, supporters say.

Shawn Raymond, another AmeriCorps volunteer, helped Mr. Asch conceive the academy. They taught in the Mississippi Delta in the mid-1990s, then started the Sunflower County Freedom Project to help at-risk teenagers in the Mississippi county of the same name.

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide