Wes Moore wants high school graduates to do a year of service

Maryland gubernatorial hopeful Wes Moore (D) wants to create a new rite of passage to adulthood for high school graduates: a year of public service.

The idea of ​​young Americans spending a year providing services in their communities has been mooted for more than a decade. Non-partisan national groups formed around her. A presidential candidate once suggested it. But political will and the often high price associated with requiring participation have stalled national efforts.

And now Moore, an Army veteran and leading contender in the race to become Maryland’s next governor, is pushing a plan to offer tens of thousands of young Marylanders a chance to participate in a state initiative. similar to national programs like AmeriCorps, the Peace Corps, and Teach for America.

The year of service option, which would provide job training and mentorship, is designed to prepare young Marylanders for college and careers and to make access to these opportunities equitable and affordable; part of Moore’s broader platform to tackle complex systemic issues, such as child poverty and the racial wealth gap, with a focus on providing equal opportunities to people of diverse horizons.

Proponents of the project say it would be the first program of its kind in the country. Maryland lawmakers unsuccessfully attempted to launch the Maryland Corps, a similar and much smaller program more than five years ago, but concerns have been raised about the $2 million needed to implement it and idea was abandoned.

Moore, who did not offer a cost estimate and said he does not plan to raise taxes to fund it, said his program would likely be delivered through a partnership between the federal governments. , state and local, as well as non-profit and for-profit businesses. One industry expert has estimated that a year-of-service option could cost up to $30,000 per year for each participant, depending on how it’s structured.

Moore sees it as an investment in the economic and educational future of the state.

“If you look at things like gap years, … the challenge is that not every kid can do that,” Moore said. “I’m a big proponent of experiential learning. I feel like there are a lot of students who have just graduated and they don’t know exactly what they want to do. And so, if you give them the opportunity to learn and grow…it will help them through that transition into adulthood.

Most calls for national service have followed major historical flashpoints, from the September 11 terrorist attacks to the 2016 presidential election, which have caused political divisions.

The vitriol has led to an increase in hate crimes in Maryland and across the country. According to FBI data, hate crimes in Maryland skyrocketed 110.5% from 19 in 2019 to 40 in 2020. Numbers jumped 13.4% nationally.

Proponents say the service brings people of different races, cultures and economic status together for a common purpose.

John M. Bridgeland, co-founder and vice-president of the Service Year Alliance, an initiative to create a national service counterpart to military service in the United States, describes Moore, a bestselling author and former head of one of the the country’s largest anti-poverty organizations, as being “particularly well placed to push this idea forward at a particularly important moment in history”.

Bridgeland, who was named the first director of the USA Freedom Corps, a national community service program created after 9/11 by President George W. Bush, said much of the debate over service has taken place at the level nationally and focused primarily on whether Americans should be encouraged or required to do so. Similar to Moore, many proposals have come from leaders with military service backgrounds.

Three years ago, Pete Buttigieg, a Navy veteran and then mayor of South Bend, Ind., suggested a mandatory national public service program for young Americans to build skills and build social cohesion. About a decade ago, U.S. Representative Charles B. Rangel (DN.Y.), a Korean War veteran, introduced a failed bill that would have required every young American to complete two years of national service before to be 25 years old.

A number of states, including California and Iowa, have invested in varying levels in services, most of which are conservation-focused, but Bridgeland said he doesn’t know of any others that have adopted a program on the scale of what Moore offers.

“If it comes to fruition, it would be a model,” he said. “A common question is: where do you go to college or what do you do afterwards? If it took off, it could be: Where do you do your service year?”

The program, which is part of Moore’s education, economics and social justice programs, would provide a stipend for work in areas that could include the environment, education and health care. An additional incentive could include in-state tuition, he said.

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While the scope of Moore’s plan would be novel, the idea builds on a state program, Maryland Corps, which was proposed six years ago and never saw the light of day. The legislature passed a bill in 2016 to create a pilot program for 100 participants between the ages of 17 and 23.

Under the bill, the Maryland Corps would have provided stipends of up to $15,000 to corps participants and one-time scholarships of up to $6,000 to those who completed the program. Sen. Shelly L. Hettleman (D-Baltimore County) said the bill passed, Gov. Larry Hogan (R) signed it but provided no funding for it.

Earlier this year, the Democratic-controlled General Assembly passed a broader bill for 5,000 attendees with a $20 million prize, hoping to launch the effort in conjunction with a new Democratic administration. . Senate Speaker Bill Ferguson (D-Baltimore City) worked with Hogan to set aside $5 million in the 2023 fiscal budget as seed capital for the corps program.

“The opportunity to explore public service and serve your community is in a way the thing that we both agree is essential to both expanding opportunity and restoring democracy so people can make things through the differences they otherwise wouldn’t have and wouldn’t have the opportunity to do. be exposed to each other,” Ferguson, a Teach for America alum, said of Moore.

The Democratic candidate, who attended military school and whose mother signed him into the military when he was 17, said a year of service option was personal to him because of how whose military service had affected his life.

“The values ​​I developed in the military reflect a lot of what I saw in military school, and that now in many ways mirrors everything I continue to see now,” Moore said. to an audience at the Brookings Institution in May last year, a month before he launched his gubernatorial campaign. “We were all under a common bond, and whether or not we went to college or voted as Democrats or Republicans, we had a common mission. We had a common goal. »

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