Advocacy

From the National Coalition for History: NCH Marks Numerous Achievements in 2015

Lee White, March 2016

In an extremely productive 2015, the National Coalition for History achieved numerous major goals. Foremost among these was the restoration of funding for K–12 history education in the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA).

In addition, unexpected issues allowed NCH to reinforce its role as the preeminent public voice for history, archives, and our other constituencies. For example, we submitted comments to the federal government regarding the treatment of oral history in research, as well as a letter to the secretary of state and the archivist of the United States expressing concern over the handling of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s e-mails.

We also launched a newly redesigned website in April 2015 with enhanced social media components. This improved our efforts to educate our constituent organizations (and potential members) about the important contributions the coalition has made in the past and how we will continue to play a vital role in policy making in the future.

Some issues, such as making the case for federal funding for history-related programs, will always remain at the core of NCH’s agenda. But the coalition is now poised to continue to expand beyond Washington, truly making it the National Coalition for History.

Below is a summary of NCH’s major accomplishments in 2015:

Restoration of Federal Funding for K–12 History/Civics Education

After years of false starts, President Obama signed a new education law (Public Law 114-95) to replace the controversial No Child Left Behind Act of 2001. The House approved the conference report to a bill to reauthorize ESEA on December 2, by a vote of 359–64. Then, on December 9, the Senate voted 85–12 to approve the report.

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. NCH and the coalition’s member organizations have engaged in advocacy efforts for nearly five years to achieve this goal. Given the elimination of federal funding for over 60 programs in the bill, restoration of funding for history education is a major accomplishment.

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.

Sec. 2232: Presidential and Congressional Academies for American History and Civics—Establishes competitive grant programs for nonprofit organizations to run intensive, two- to six-week-long academies in American history, civics, and government for high school students and for teachers.

Sec. 2233: National Activities—Creates a competitive grant program for nonprofit organizations and institutions of higher education to develop and disseminate innovative approaches to offering high-quality instruction in American history, civics, government, and geography for underserved students. This program could be used to fund professional development for teachers.

Sec. 4107: Well-Rounded Educational Opportunities—Provides competitive funding from states to Local Education Agencies (LEAs) to provide students a “well-rounded education.” LEAs can choose from a list of subjects that specifically includes history, civics, economics, and geography.

Section 4611: Education Innovation and Research—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.

NCH is already working to ensure that the new programs authorized in the law are funded during the fiscal year (FY) 2017 congressional appropriations process.

Fiscal Year 2016 Federal Funding for History-Related Agencies and Programs

On December 18, Congress approved a $1.15 trillion omnibus appropriations bill that will fund the federal government for the rest of FY ’16. Several positive developments came from the bill. For example, the National Endowment for the Humanities budget was increased for the first time in six years, by $2 million, up to $148 million. And potentially severe cuts in the Title VI/Fulbright-Hays International Education programs were defeated.

Of particular note is the level funding received by the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC) this fiscal year. The original appropriations bill considered in the House Financial Services and General Government Appropriations Subcommittee would have cut NHPRC’s FY ’16 budget by 40 percent, from $5 million in FY ’15 to $3 million. The situation allowed NCH to use the contacts gained from the Congressional History Caucus (see below), and the cut was rescinded at the House Appropriations Committee markup. NHPRC was the only program in the entire bill to have funding restored.

As we have argued before, the fact that Congress did not go so far as to cut funding for our interests is a true victory, given today’s budget climate.

NCH Submits Comments on Human Subjects Research in HHS Rule

In September, the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and 15 other federal departments and agencies announced that they were considering revisions to the regulations for the protection of human subjects in research.

The proposed rule specified “oral history, journalism, biography, and historical scholarship activities that focus directly on the specific individuals about whom the information is collected” as potentially exempt from “the scope of the Common Rule” (that is, the requirement that institutional review boards approve all research involving human subjects). The recommendations also acknowledged that oral history, and historical studies in general, already employ well-­developed codes of ethical conduct. Finally, the draft rule recognized the importance and value of identifying individual historical actors in history; IRBs often require human subjects to be given anonymity.

The Oral History Association’s (OHA) executive director, the late Clifford Kuhn, took the lead in preparing draft comments on the proposed rule. The comments strongly endorsed the recommendation to exclude oral history from the Common Rule. NCH used the OHA’s paper as the basis for a letter submitted to the HHS on October 30.

National Women’s History Museum Commission

In December 2014, President Obama signed legislation establishing a commission to study the potential creation of a National Women’s History Museum. In 2015, the panel’s members were appointed, and they are now ramping up the commission’s activities. They recently launched a website and social media presence (www.womenshistorycommission.org). The commission is tasked with submitting a report to the president and Congress by no later than November 18, 2016.

The commission has solicited input from leading authorities and experts on women’s history, professionals from the museum and curatorial fields, prominent American women, and influential women’s organizations from across the country. A “scholar’s summit” was held in January. I recently met with the commission’s executive director and research director and expressed NCH’s interest in assisting in whatever way we can in its work.

Congressional History Caucus

Throughout 2015 NCH worked to recruit members to the Congressional History Caucus and assist it in its mission of promoting history on Capitol Hill. We currently have 23 members in the House caucus, an increase from the end of the last session.

Our website includes a “how-to” page to allow NCH organizations and their members to recruit members of Congress to the caucus. We continued to promote the “Dear Colleague” letter urging representatives to join the caucus. Every House office was contacted at least once by an NCH staff member. NCH member organizations sent solicitations to their constituents urging them to contact their congressional representative to have them join. More information on the History Caucus can be found at www.historycoalition.org/congressional-history-caucus.

NCH anticipates an equally productive 2016. Stay tuned.

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


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