A recent article republished on Twin Cities Daily Planet, but originally published in Insight News, (click here for the article) highlights the fact our North Minneapolis schools need 150 tutors for math and literacy.
In case that number didn't register, let me stomp my virtual foot and highlight it more. Our North Minneapolis schools need ONE HUNDRED AND FIFTY TUTORS to teach our children basic math and literacy...
...and how will we get them? How will we get these desperately needed tutors?
Well, the article mentions the AmeriCorp program.
Yes, the AmeriCorps program could potentially provide the tutors, if only young people would volunteer for those AmeriCorps positions. And so, apparently with a perfectly straight face, the Insight News article proceeds to outline what these precious and desperately needed AmeriCorps tutors would earn for their vital service, as follows:
Tutors commit to a year of service, during which they undergo training and earn a living allowance of up to $526 biweekly and an education award of up to $5,645 to help pay for furthering their own education. Full-time tutors are also eligible to receive health insurance.
OK, readers, lets get out our scratch paper calculators and figure out how much these tutors will be earning. First of all, $526 biweekly works out to $263 weekly.
Let me once again stomp my virtual foot. TWO HUNDRED AND SIXTY THREE DOLLARS A WEEK to tutor inner city children. Why is this called a "living allowance" instead of wages, I wonder? I suppose because if you call it "wages" somebody might actually say "But those are terrible wages. I could make more working a low end job doing almost anything else!"
Yes. You could.
Oh, but let's examine that $5,645 tuition credit, shall we? Sounds like a lot of money, but keep in mind you must work a year to earn that credit. And there are (last time I checked) 52 weeks in a year.
Let's keep the math simple and round to 50. So 100 times 50 equals 5,000 which takes care of most of that money. OK, but then then throw in the leftover 2 weeks, which takes care of another $200 and leaves $445 left over.
So, really, it's about 100 bucks a week. Take that 100 bucks and add it to the $263 "living allowance" you would be raking in about $363 a week. Plus health insurance. Think of the remaining $445 as a Christmas bonus...which can only be used for tuition, not presents for your family.
And keep in mind...you have to work your full year to get that tuition bonus. And it can ONLY be applied to tuition. As for health insurance, well, it's not the precious and hard-to-obtain commodity it used to be. And I wonder if it's free to the AmeriCorps employee or if the employee has to pay insurance premiums out of that skinny little "living allowance?"
In summary, these wages and benefits offered to would-be tutors of inner-city children is an abysmal package and it's no wonder there are 150 spaces. I'm guessing when the school year starts any red-hot second there will be about 149 spaces left. Or, in the alternative, local people who aren't too qualified but desperately need jobs will be shoved into some of those spaces.
That wouldn't be such a bad thing, though. Even if not good at "math and literacy tutoring," per se, extra hands would be helpful in the classroom especially if possessing positive mothering and fathering skills.
But who knows what will happen with the 150 spaces? Hopefully Insight News will follow up with additional information as the school year starts. How many tutoring positions got filled? What were the qualifications of those who filled them? Did each of the volunteers receive their free ball cap with AmeriCorps logo or were they paid in promises?
Practically since the inception of AmeriCorps, this fine program has been limping along on far less money than it needs and deserves. Idealistic people join the AmeriCorps cause, and idealistic people get paid in the nebulous currency of good feelings and kind words...in addition to the insulting wages outlined above.
It's no wonder their term of service is a year. Because three months is about how long it takes a person to wise up but then realize they better play this bad hand and gut it out until the end of their year.
Who pays the ultimate price? The children who need these tutors. And society, when these tutor-less children grow up lacking math and literacy skills. There are also hidden costs to society when idealistic people like these AmeriCorps volunteers realize they've been used, and tell themselves, "Never again will I work for so little and allow myself to be taken advantage of because of my starry eyed idealism."
We can do better. But will we? I think a start to "doing better" involves "doing the math" and pointing out in a public way THIS JUST DOESN'T ADD UP.
I sincerely hope our new Minneapolis school board members, who will be elected in the next election, will be taking up this issue of grossly, embarrassingly underpaid AmeriCorps tutors.