The District government failed to reapply for millions in federal AmeriCorps dollars, jeopardizing the future of several programs that help children improve their reading skills and support teachers in troubled city schools.
The situation has left the city and several nonprofit organizations scrambling to make up for more than $3.5 million that the organizations requested.
That money would have been used in the next school year to fund 57 tutors through Reading Partners and the Literacy Lab, as well as 190 City Year staffers who serve as mentors and help manage classrooms in high-need schools. Representatives of the nonprofit groups say they are hopeful they can find money to keep their programs running.
The Corporation for National and Community Service, a federal agency, manages AmeriCorps and similar programs that send federal dollars to service-oriented nonprofits. All 50 states and the District have service commissions that serve as intermediaries for local nonprofits and national organizations operating in their jurisdictions and seeking federal funding.
The three nonprofits in the District did their part. But the District’s commission, Serve D.C., which is part of the office of Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D), missed the Jan. 30 deadline to submit its application for the largest pool of AmeriCorps dollars. Serve D.C. also failed to request an extension on time, rendering the city ineligible to receive money for some of the AmeriCorps programs in the city.
Samantha Jo Warfield, a spokeswoman for the Corporation for National and Community Service, said that such an oversight by a commission is unusual and that she could not recall a similar situation in recent years.
“Whatever their explanation was, not only was it not submitted on time, but it didn’t meet the justification for extenuating circumstances,” Warfield said.
City officials originally declined to explain why Serve D.C. missed crucial deadlines. LaToya Foster, a spokeswoman for Bowser, said Serve D.C. employees responsible for the grant mishap were terminated, but she declined to name them. After this article was published online, Foster said Serve D.C. officials could not submit the application because of technical problems.
“We are aware of the issues Serve D.C. had filing an application with the Corporation for National Community Service and have petitioned the federal agency to work with us to ensure the participating organizations are held harmless,” Foster said in a statement.
“The Mayor has committed to identifying avenues to remedy the funding for participating organizations so that there will be no disruption in services to our residents,” she said.
Warfield said that the District is set to receive under $1 million in the summer that it can distribute how it wishes and that the Corporation for National and Community Service may have supplemental funding opportunities later in the year. She also said the agency may be able to accommodate the affected nonprofit groups because they are longtime AmeriCorps beneficiaries with a national presence.
Most AmeriCorps members serve for only one year, but some return for a second year and may not be able to if their nonprofit agencies lose funding.
City Year sought $2.8 million, an increase over its current Serve D.C. grant of $1.5 million that would enable it to recruit more young adults to work in schools, particularly in poorer parts of the city.
In their distinctive red shirts, City Year corps members help students with assignments and teachers with classroom management. In schools where many students are working at different academic levels, teachers often rely on these volunteers to provide students one-on-one attention.
“Losing this critical funding has a significant impact on City Year DC and we are exploring options to address the shortfall,” spokeswoman Tina Chong said in a statement. “Above all, we’re committed to ensuring that we have AmeriCorps members serving students and schools in DC next year.”
The Literacy Lab requested $300,000 to cover about 20 percent of its services at D.C. schools, with the rest funded by other AmeriCorps grants.
“As things stand now, if the city does not find a solution, The Literacy Lab will lose funding that will support 20 full-time early literacy tutors serving over 300 low-
income pre-K children in DC with evidence-based early literacy intervention in the upcoming school year,” Tom Dillon, the co-CEO of the nonprofit, said in a statement.
Reading Partners sought $560,000 for 37 corps members. The group uses AmeriCorps members to manage volunteers at 19 traditional and charter schools, but it may be forced to make other cuts if it has to hire costlier employees to run its programs.
“They want to fix this,” said Karen Gardner, senior executive director of Reading Partners. “We are optimistic that will happen.”
Other programs that use AmeriCorps funding — including Teach for America and Jumpstart in preschools — were not affected because they are in the middle of their grant cycles.