A greater call to service

The U.S. Public Service Academy would form the foundation for education in public service.

Eric Goldfischer

In the play âÄúWest Side on the South Side,âÄù directed by Harry Waters Jr. and performed recently at Neighborhood House on the west side of St. Paul, a character reminisces about the attitudes of his community upon his return from the Vietnam War. He talks about how, despite the antipathy toward veterans that was prevalent in the country at the time, his community on the west side received him with open arms. He remembers a popular saying at the time: âÄúWe take care of our own.âÄù One of the ways to ensure that our country continues to take care of its citizens would be ensuring the creation of the U.S. Public Service Academy. The idea for the academy was formed by two Teach for America workers in the late 1990s. They saw a need for a cultural shift toward service and decided the best way to accomplish this was to establish an undergraduate university devoted to public service. Out of this initial idea has come the basis for the academy. It will be a free public university, modeled off of military academies, with a selective, congressionally based admissions committee. After graduation, students will perform five years of public service, which can be anything from teaching to working in Washington, D.C. Why do we need the U.S. Public Service Academy? There are many reasons. The strong election of President Barack Obama showed clearly that many voters took his call for change seriously. Part of the presidentâÄôs message is a call to renew our commitment to community and public service, a very Kennedy-esque idea. To make this dream a reality, we need institutions of higher education to train public servants. There is no better way to fulfill this necessity than with a public institution that focuses exclusively on sending our brightest minds into our communities and government, rather than to Wall Street. Our country needs this commitment to ordinary people âÄî a real commitment to service. With the current debate over health care, there is legitimate concern over the federal budget deficit. However, our representatives should not let this deter them from supporting the academy, because it will only cost 70 additional cents per American. Additionally, besides being a public-service initiative, the academy also falls into the category of improving education. While the academy is not a high school or elementary school, it could spawn public K-12 schools that also focus on public service. It will also serve as an incentive for students looking to serve their country who are not interested in the military academies. And on a graduate level, college students who wish to obtain a masterâÄôs degree in public service must go through two more years of school after college and see their costs of education piling higher and higher. The academy eliminates that concern by providing a rigorous education in public service at the undergraduate level with no cost other than the commitment to serve the country. The U.S. Public Service Academy is a bipartisan initiative. It will fill a void in our country and ensure that our leaders in both community and government will be prepared for the challenges that the next several decades will surely bring. Recently, Rep. Keith Ellison, DFLâÄìMinn., endorsed the Academy and promised us his vote when the bill is brought to the house. Rep. Betty McCollum, DâÄìMinn., has already done the same and co-sponsored the bill last year in the House. I call on senators Al Franken, DâÄìMinn., and Amy Klobuchar, DâÄìMinn., to follow their lead and join with the 24 other senators who have already endorsed the academy. I ask our representatives to echo the values of the character of âÄúWest Side on the South Side.âÄù ItâÄôs time for us to take care of one another. Eric Goldfischer USPSA Minnesota Youth Advisory Board Daily reader