Federal budget cuts could end AmeriCorps programs in Oklahoma

Thursday, July 24th 2003, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ AmeriCorps programs helping children in several Oklahoma towns might end because of federal budget cuts.

Funding for as many as 1,600 of the 1,800 AmeriCorps positions in Oklahoma could end Aug. 31.

Positions and programs in Altus, Ardmore, Duncan, Hugo, Okeene, Oklahoma City and Seminole are particularly at risk. Also in jeopardy are programs affiliated with the Little Dixie Community Action Agency in Antlers, Crowder, Idabel, Broken Bow, Garvin, Stigler and Fort Towson.

The state's AmeriCorps budget has been cut from $3.5 million to $1 million.

AmeriCorps has workers in more than 250 state sites, most prominently in Oklahoma elementary schools for after-hours, one-on-one tutoring.

Most AmeriCorps workers are recent high school graduates, college students and other young adults who need money for higher-education expenses. Workers can earn up to $4,725 for part-time tutoring during the school year and some AmeriCorps positions provide $9,900 per year in living allowances.

AmeriCorps was criticized in Congress for management, accounting and financial problems. After the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, not enough money was available for the surge of young American adults seeking to join the program. Auditing procedures also were faulted by lawmakers.

After a reorganization, President Bush is being urged by AmeriCorps advocates to support $200 million in emergency supplemental funds for the program, created in 1994.

``AmeriCorps has played a vital role in Oklahoma,'' said Nancy Sharrock, executive director of the Oklahoma Community Service Commission, which oversees AmeriCorps.

AmeriCorps workers restored dilapidated buildings at state parks, recruited and trained volunteers for the American Red Cross, and served with Girl Scout and Head Start programs.

``They have taught children to read, built affordable homes and mentored adolescents,'' Sharrock said.

AmeriCorps workers have provided ``a great assistance to Oklahoma's struggling public schools, assisting teachers by tutoring and working with students who are striving to read at grade level,'' she said.

In the small Carter County community of Springer, AmeriCorps member Geri Aman worked with 13 fourth-grade students who were one grade behind in reading skills. Within a year, they were nearly two complete grades ahead, said Bobbie Laws, executive director of the Ardmore-based Communities in Schools.