Advocacy Roundup: Federal Records, Funding for Education, and the Congressional History Caucus
Lee White, September 2015
Late spring and summer brought numerous public policy opportunities and challenges to the National Coalition for History (NCH). The sheer number of issues we are working on prohibits us from discussing a single one at length, as is our usual format. For more information on any of these items, please visit historycoalition.org.
Monitoring Legislation to Eliminate the National Historical Publications and Records Commission
Recently a draft bill surfaced in the House that included a provision to eliminate the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC). On July 21, the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee was expected to consider legislation to address the massive employee records data breach at the Office of Personnel Management (OPM). The costs associated with implementing the bill require an offset elsewhere in the federal budget.
Committee chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) proposed eliminating the NHPRC to pay for remediation of the OPM data breach. NHPRC’s current annual budget is $5 million, which would generate $25 million over the next five fiscal years. At the last minute, the draft bill was removed from the committee’s website and hearing agenda. Although it is unclear why the bill was pulled, it seems unlikely that the reason is related to the NHPRC.
It is expected that the Oversight Committee will consider the bill after Labor Day, when it returns from its August recess. NCH is closely monitoring the situation and will post developments via social media, our newsletter, and our website. NCH will obviously mount a vigorous campaign to oppose the bill, and when and if appropriate, the AHA will send out a legislative alert with instructions for contacting your members of Congress.
Advocating for Restoration of Federal Funding for History and Civics Education
On July 16, the US Senate approved S. 1177, the Every Child Achieves Act, with strong bipartisan support. The vote in favor of the bill was 81–17. The bill reauthorizes the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) and would replace the much-maligned No Child Left Behind Act.
As Congress moved to cut or curtail funding for programs of concern to historians this past spring and summer, the National Coalition for History monitored its actions.
The legislation reduces the role of the federal government in K–12 education and gives states and local education agencies (LEAs) greater control over such things as funding, teacher evaluation, school choice, testing, standards, and accountability. Notably, the Department of Education would be prohibited from forcing states to adopt uniform standards, such as Common Core.
In contrast, the House passed its own version of the bill (H.R. 5) along strict party lines, by a vote of 218–213. Twenty-seven Republicans joined all 186 Democrats in opposing the legislation. The House bill goes further in reducing the federal footprint in K–12 education, returning even more control over education to the states and localities. The Obama administration issued a veto threat to the House bill but has refrained from taking a formal position on the Senate legislation.
S. 1177 includes promising news for history and civics education. It restores limited federal funding for both of those subjects, although the bill does not set forth a specific amount.
◆ Title II of the bill (professional development) includes a competitive grant program for LEAs to carry out teaching of traditional American history as an academic subject in elementary and secondary schools.
◆ It also includes funding for presidential and congressional academies in American history and civics; these are intensive summer institutes for teachers and students (sophomores and juniors in high school).
◆ Grants would be made available to nonprofits to support innovative approaches to teaching history, civics, and geography, particularly those focused on reaching underserved students. Funds may be used to support development of new or dissemination of existing approaches.
In fiscal year 2012, Congress terminated funding for the Teaching American History grants program at the Department of Education. 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, were also eliminated. As a result, since FY 2011 there has been no federal funding provided for history or civics education.
The House and Senate bills must be reconciled in a conference committee. Therefore, an ESEA rewrite still has a long way to go before passage.
Most importantly, the House version does not include the history and civics language. We will be working with our allies at the Campaign for the Civic Mission of Schools on a “Dear Colleague” letter to House conferees on the bill, urging them to include the Senate language. Congress is in recess in August, so the bill will not be taken up until the fall. NCH plans a concerted advocacy effort to persuade the House conferees to include funding for history and civics in the conference report.
Lee White is executive director of the National Coalition for History.
Congressional History Caucus
Representatives John Larson (D-CT), Tom Cole (R-OK), Ander Crenshaw (R-FL), and Bill Pascrell (D-NJ) once again agreed to serve as cochairs of the Congressional History Caucus this session. The group provides a forum for members of Congress to share their interest in history and to promote an awareness of the subject on Capitol Hill. This effort also includes establishing relationships between members of Congress and historians in their districts.
NCH’s new home page includes a section devoted to promoting the History Caucus and provides step-by-step directions to show historians and other stakeholders how they can easily contact their representatives to urge them to join the caucus. We have been heavily promoting the caucus within NCH and are also identifying likely targets on the Hill. The caucus currently has 20 members, already six more than it had at the end of the last Congress.
If you have not already done so, please go to NCH’s History Caucus website (http://historycoalition.org/congressional-history-caucus/) and follow the instructions on how to ask your member of Congress to join. One important way for the caucus to grow is for representatives to hear from their constituents, so please make the brief effort it takes to call or write.
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