Isabel Sawhill for the Brookings Institution: The country is deeply divided. It is divided economically, but also politically and culturally. As these divisions widen, I’m convinced it’s time to revive a commitment to national service and to make that commitment universal. “Universal” could mean mandatory, but more realistically, it should mean the creation of a strong expectation that every U.S. resident give one year of service — either military or civilian — and be provided with a structured opportunity to do so.

Most of us spent Thanksgiving eating turkey and giving thanks for family and friends, or perhaps for our own health and prosperity. But how many of us asked what we owe our country and what we might do to improve it? In his 1961 inaugural address, John F. Kennedy famously said, “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.” That led to the creation of the Peace Corps and, soon after, to its domestic equivalent VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America), which was later incorporated into the AmeriCorps network. President Bill Clinton expanded on the idea by establishing the Corporation for National and Community Service, an agency overseeing AmeriCorps and other volunteer services. Though the Trump administration has proposed eliminating CNCS, it remains popular among Republicans, Democrats, and voters of all stripes. ...

Many of today’s young people are floundering. They are uncertain about what they want to do with their lives. They need a structured opportunity that will allow them to feel needed and capable. Hugh Price, former head of the Urban League, sees great merit in using a military model to turn around the lives of less advantaged kids. He points to the success of the National Guard’s Youth Challenge program. Evaluations of AmeriCorps suggest that it instills the desire for continuous service and civic engagement.

'Little Syria' has been wiped out

Emma Coleman for the New America Foundation: Nestled among the posh hotels that serve the travelers of Manhattan’s Financial District sits a former church. Its white stone exterior would be austere, but it has lost some of its 105-year-old grandeur beneath the ever-expanding shadows of the 50-story buildings that now surround it. Just above the bustling sidewalk, the church’s namesake is carved into stone and is seen driving his spear into the dragon, forever frozen in the infamous religious battle. St. George’s Syrian Melkite Catholic Church is what some call the “last surviving trace” of the neighborhood known as Little Syria.

Between the 1880s and the 1940s, Lower Manhattan bustled with immigrants from Greater Syria, which accounts for present-day Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, and the Palestinian territory. The neighborhood, which was centered around a strip of Arab restaurants, silk shops, and Turkish coffee houses on Washington Street, was a home away from home for immigrants seeking a better life in America. By the early 1900s, more than half of all Syrians in America lived in New York, and the overwhelming majority of those lived in Little Syria. When the 1924 Johnson-Reed Immigration Act limited Syrian immigration to only 100 people per year, however, the population ceased to be replenished by new immigrants, and Little Syria was eventually destroyed by an eminent domain claim for the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel and the construction of the World Trade Center.

Fast forward to 2017, and the travel ban has indefinitely suspended immigration from Syria, in a disheartening historical callback to 1924. Back in what was once New York's Little Syria, an Irish pub operates within the facade of St. George’s Syrian Church. Starbucks locations have replaced the Turkish coffee houses. In the face of erasure and discrimination, where is the Syrian community of New York now?

School funding's out

Michael Leachman for the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities: Public investment in K-12 schools — crucial for communities to thrive and the economy to offer broad opportunity — has fallen dramatically in a number of states over the last decade, our newly updated survey of state budgets finds. Worse, some of the deepest-cutting states also have cut income tax rates, weakening their main revenue source for supporting schools. At a time when producing workers with high-level technical and analytical skills is increasingly important to a country’s prosperity, large cuts in basic education funding could cause lasting harm.

Most states cut school funding after the recession hit, and it took years for them to restore it to pre-recession levels. In 2015, 29 states were still providing less total school funding per student than they were in 2008, the latest comprehensive spending data from the Census Bureau show. In 19 states, local government funding per student fell over the same period, adding to the damage from state funding cuts. In states where local funding rose, those increases usually did not make up for cuts in state support.

In most states, school funding has gradually risen since 2015, but some states that cut very deeply after the recession hit are still providing much less support. As of the current 2017-18 school year, at least 12 states have cut “general” or “formula” funding — the main form of state support for elementary and secondary schools — by 7 percent or more per student over the last decade, our survey of state budget documents finds. Seven of those 12 — Arizona, Idaho, Kansas, Michigan, Mississippi, North Carolina, and Oklahoma — enacted income tax rate cuts costing tens or hundreds of millions of dollars each year rather than restore education funding. Kansas repealed some of the tax cuts earlier this year and increased school funding, but not enough to restore previous funding levels or satisfy the state’s Supreme Court, which ruled that the funding is unconstitutionally inadequate.