One hurdle that Mr. Obama’s plan must vault is the U.S. Constitution, which limits the federal government to enumerated powers. Lacking the power to mandate universal community service directly, Mr. Obama candidly discloses his strategy: making federal funds contingent on schools having service programs that meet federal standards.This is where things get tricky. Leaving aside the constitutional problems, which Obama seems to think he can avoid by using the Spending Clause (itself an overused mechanism for implementing policy that would otherwise be unconstitutional for the federal government to do)
Because Mr. Obama calls his plan voluntary, it’s important to understand exactly what he says and doesn’t say. In both of his main speeches on national service – on July 2, 2008 and on December 5, 2007 – Barack Obama set his goal of 50 hours of service a year, promised that “We'll reach this goal,” and explained how he would do so for middle and high school children:So when I'm President, I will set a goal for all American middle and high school students to perform 50 hours of service a year, and for all college students to perform 100 hours of service a year. This means that by the time you graduate college, you'll have done 17 weeks of service.If Obama hadn’t promised that “We’ll reach this goal” of 50 hours a year of service for all students, one might read his proposal as indicating that he would require schools to have service programs, but that these programs might not require 50 hours of service. Yet the only way that almost every 11-year old public school student in the country would serve 50 hours a year – i.e., the only way that Mr. Obama could reach his goal – is by doing what he seems to indicate he’s going to do: setting a federal goal of 50 hours a year for each middle school student and reaching that goal by making federal funds contingent on middle schools requiring their students to serve those 50 hours.
We'll reach this goal in several ways. At the middle and high school level, we'll make federal assistance conditional on school districts developing service programs, and give schools resources to offer new service opportunities.
Thus, it would be the public schools that would impose federal standards of coerced service on each child as part of their requirements for graduation. For students, service would be involuntary. Even for the public schools, their participation would be only nominally voluntary – for how many public schools can survive without federal assistance?
Lest there be any remaining doubt that Barack Obama’s “voluntary” universal service plan contemplates mandatory service for children, his Service Plan praises mandatory service in the sentence that immediately precedes his call for 50 hours of service: “Schools that require service as part of the educational experience create improved learning environments and serve as resources for their communities.” Moreover, in his Plan, he promises to “develop national guidelines for service-learning and community service programs,” thus not leaving the content of service programs to the states.
By tying federal aid to public schools to the 50 hour public service you will require two things. First, a massive federal bureacracy will have to be created and funded to oversee the program. Obama has explictly stated here at page 4, "He will develop national guidelines for service-learning and community service programs, and will give schools better tools both to develop successful programs and to document the experience of students at all levels. The documentation takes people to compile and verify the "voluntary service" so that the schools that don't make the time will be sanctioned. So, in addition to all the reporting that schools do now for things like free/reduced lunches, NCLB reporting, attendance, etc., we are going to add yet another data collection and reporting scheme, adding further to the cost of public education. both the new bureaucracy and the new reporting means more tax dollars and make no mistake about it, it would be funded by spending cuts elsewhere.
Second, this program will, as Obama has stated, national standards for community service. Aside from the utter oxymoronic statement itself "National standards for community service," the creation of national standards will mean that the federal government will have to decide what is appropriate community service and what is not. This, in itself has two significant implications. First, in order for organizations to get this free "voluntary labor" that it may want, it will have to "qualify" in the eyes of the government. That means, most likely, an application process--which means another bureaucracy. The application process for charities and community orgranizations will require federal recognition of what is "good" and what is not. Such a program makes me nervous since I don't want the federal government to be making that kind of distinction. Second, we will of course need another federal bureaucracy to manage this aspect of the community service. So more tax dollars to fund this program.
But has anyone given any consideration to what the labor force, i.e. our kids, think of this idea? Keep in mind that teenagers have a pretty sensitive "B.S. detector" and will know that they only have to punch the time clock, so that most of them will do their time and little else. What is the point in that? Oh yeah, free labor by government fiat.
I am not a big fan of high school service learning that currently exists in my home state of Maryland and other locales. To graduate, a student has to put in a certain number of hours in community service. Right now, it is a pretty broad definition, but I worry that even now, it is a matter of punching a time clock and little else.
Our national has a long history of individual volunteerism and Americans are by far the most generous nation on earth. But when you start requiring generosity, don't you simply build resistance to service. What good does that do anyone?