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Congress Restores Funding for K–12 History Education

By Lee White

After nearly a decade of false starts, President Obama has signed a new education law (Public Law 114-95) to replace the controversial No Child Left Behind Act that was passed in 2001. On December 9, the U.S. Senate voted 85–12 to approve the conference report to a bill (S. 1177) to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. On December 2, the House approved the report by a vote of 359–64.

Most importantly for the historical community, the new law—the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA)—restores targeted federal funding for K–12 history and civics education. The National Coalition for History (NCH), the OAH, and the coalition's member organizations have engaged in advocacy efforts for nearly five years to achieve this goal. Given the retrenchment of federal funding for a host of programs in the bill, restoration of funding for history education is a major accomplishment.

In fiscal year (FY) 2012, Congress terminated funding for the Teaching American History (TAH) grants program at the Department of Education. The move also eliminated appropriations earmarked for civics education and federal funding for National History Day, a nationally recognized program that increases student participation in historical studies across the country. As a result, starting in FY 2012 there has been no federal funding provided for history or civics education.

ESSA includes four sections that provide funding streams for K–12 history and civics education. Two sections are specifically earmarked for those subjects, and two sections establish grant programs in which the subjects are eligible for competitive funding.

Within ESSA, Subpart 3: American History and Civics Education authorizes an allocation of 1.4 percent of the amount appropriated for all national activities relating to preparing, training, and recruiting high-quality teachers, principals, and other school leaders for each fiscal year the act is in effect (FY 2017 through FY 2020). It is important to note that these amounts will still need to be funded through the annual appropriations process. The maximum allowable allocations are $6,564,000 each for FY 2017 and FY 2018, $6,568,000 for FY 2019, and $6,848,000 for FY 2020. (These funding amounts are provided by the Committee for Education Funding.)

Two programs stand to benefit substantially from Subpart 3. Presidential and Congressional Academies for American History and Civics (section 2232) would receive not less than 26 percent of the amount available, and other National Activities (section 2233) would receive up to 74 percent.

Section 2232: Presidential and Congressional Academies for American History and Civics—This section establishes intensive academies for teachers and students to learn more about history and civics. The secretary of education shall award up to 12 grants annually on a competitive basis to fund the academies.

1. Presidential Academy—Each year, the Presidential Academy shall select between 50 and 300 teachers of American history and civics from public or private elementary schools and secondary schools to attend a seminar or institute that provides intensive professional development opportunities. The program will be led by a team of primary scholars and core teachers who are accomplished in the field of American history and civics. It will be conducted during the summer or other appropriate time and will be between two and six weeks in duration. Teachers will receive a stipend to attend the seminar or institute.

2. Congressional Academy—Each year the Congressional Academy shall select between 100 and 300 outstanding students of American history and civics to attend a seminar or institute. To be eligible to attend, a student must be recommended by his or her secondary school principal or other school leader. The student must be a secondary school junior or senior in the academic year following attendance at the seminar or institute. The program will be conducted during the summer or other appropriate time and will be between two and six weeks in duration. Students will receive a stipend to attend the seminar or institute.

Entities eligible to conduct the Presidential and Congressional Academies include institutions of higher education, nonprofit educational organizations, museums, libraries, and research centers with demonstrated expertise in historical methodology or the teaching of American history and civics. Eligible entities must provide matching funds equal to 100 percent of the amount of the grant.

Section 2233: National Activities—The purpose of this section is to promote new and existing evidence-based strategies to encourage innovative instruction in American history, civics and government, and geography; learning strategies; and professional development activities and programs for teachers, principals, and other school leaders. The grants emphasize instruction, strategies, activities, and programs that benefit low-income students and underserved populations.

ESSA authorizes the secretary of education to award competitive grants to eligible entities (such as institutions of higher education and nonprofit or for-profit organizations) with demonstrated expertise in the development, implementation, and strengthening of programs to teach traditional American history, civics, economics, and geography. Grants will be awarded for developing, implementing, and disseminating for voluntary use innovative, evidence-based approaches to American history and civic learning that demonstrate innovation, scalability, and accountability. Grants may be for professional development. Grants are for a three-year period with the opportunity for a one-time two-year renewal.

There are two other potential funding streams for history and civics. The law provides funding to the states to make grants to local education agencies (LEAs) for a broad range of programs.

Section 4107: Well-Rounded Educational Opportunities—This section provides competitive funding to local education agencies (LEAs) to develop and implement programs that provide students with a "well-rounded education." One allowable use of grant funds is for "activities to promote the development, implementation, and strengthening of programs to teach traditional American history, civics, economics, geography, or government education." LEAs may partner with other LEAs, institutions of higher education, nonprofit organizations, community-based organizations, and businesses in developing these programs.

Section 4611: Education Innovation and Research—This section creates a new research and innovation fund that allows LEAs, in conjunction with nonprofit organizations, to apply for funding to create, implement, replicate, or take to scale entrepreneurial, evidence-based, field-initiated innovations to improve student achievement and attainment for high-need students. Innovations in teaching civics, history, and social studies are eligible for grants. This could be the source of much-needed funding for the evaluation of programs.

So what happens next?

First, the programs authorized in the law have to be funded by the appropriations committees in the House and Senate. The NCH will be sending alerts in February, when the FY 2017 appropriations process begins, asking everyone who cares about history, civics, and social studies to contact their senators and representatives to urge full funding for these programs created as part of the ESSA legislation. Despite the fact that the grant programs now exist, we still must push to have them fully funded.

Second, over the course of 2016, the Department of Education will prepare program guidelines and competitive criteria for the grant programs outlined in ESSA. That way, once the funding is made available, the department will be ready to issue calls for proposals.

Finally, the competitive funding awards will likely be made, and moneys distributed, for the first time in the second half of calendar year 2017. The change in administrations in January may push the timetable further back.

The restitution of federal funding for K–12 history and civics education is reason to cheer, and we should recognize the important role that advocacy played in ensuring that K–12 history continues to play an important role in our children's education.

Lee White is executive director of the National Coalition for History.

Posted: January 12, 2016
Tagged: Advocacy