HM - April 2019 - Federal History Ed Support


Federal Support for K-12 History Education—Where We’ve Been and What Does the Future Hold?

by Lee White, Executive Director
National Coalition for History 

The National Coalition for History (NCH) is a non-profit educational organization providing leadership in history related advocacy in Washington. We represent the interests of a diverse number of groups including historians, archivists, researchers, teachers, students, preservationists, political scientists, museum professionals, genealogists, and other stakeholders.

The National Council for History Education recently rejoined the National Coalition for History (NCH) and Dr. Luis Martinez-Fernandez, a member of the NCHE Board of Directors, has been named to represent you on our Policy Board. NCHE’s members bring back a whole new dimension to our already broad constituency that has been missed.

Where We’ve Been

In fiscal year 2002, due to the leadership of Senator Robert Byrd (D-WV), Congress authorized the “Teaching American History” (TAH) grants program in the Department of Education. Thanks to Senator Byrd, nearly $1 billion of federal dollars were appropriated over the first decade of the 21st century to improve K-12 history education. But when he passed away in 2010 the program that he nurtured for so long died with him. In fiscal year 2012 Congress terminated funding for the TAH program. Appropriations earmarked for civic education and federal funding for National History Day were also eliminated. 

The No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act was enacted in 2002 and was scheduled for revision in 2007. One rare thing that Democrats and Republicans could agree on was that NCLB’s rigid requirements and over-emphasis on testing became increasingly unworkable for local school systems and educators. Unfortunately, the overemphasis on preparing students for their assessment tests unintentionally meant a narrowing of the curriculum.

After nearly a decade of false starts in 2015 President Obama signed into law a new education bill known as the “Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA)” to replace the controversial NCLB. While the law restored targeted federal funding for K-12 history and civics education, the authorized appropriations levels left much to be desired.

The ESSA includes two dedicated funding streams for K-12 history and civics education.
  1. American History and Civics Education Grants fund programs that promote innovative instruction, learning strategies, and professional development in American history, civics and government and geography, with an emphasis on activities and programs that benefit low-income students and underserved populations. Grants are for a 3-year period with the opportunity for a one-time 2-year renewal.
  2. American History and Civics Academies supports the establishment of Presidential Academies for Teachers of American History and Civics that offer workshops for both veteran and new teachers of American history and civics to strengthen their knowledge and preparation for teaching these subjects. The program also supports establishment of Congressional Academies for Students of American History and Civics for high school students to develop a broader and deeper understanding of these subjects.
The maximum amount authorized for both programs combined for FY 20 is $6,848,000. It is important to note these amounts are spending targets that still need to be funded through the annual appropriations process. While Congress has provided funding for both programs, they have unfortunately not come close to the amounts set in the authorizations.  In FY 17 and FY 18, both programs combined were funded at $3.5 million ($1.8 million for the academies and $1.7 million for the grants). In the recently passed FY 19 budget the total went up to $4.8 million. While the academies stayed at $1.8 million, funding for the grants saw a major increase up to $3 million.

These modest amounts have only allowed the U.S. Department of Education to award an extremely limited number of grants. For example, in FY 17 and FY 18 a total of only three grant projects were funded. In that time frame, funding was provided for only four academy projects.

Where Do We Go From Here?

Congress has begun the process of developing the fiscal year FY 2020. Unfortunately, as he has for the past two years, President Trump is proposing eliminating all funding for the American History grants and academies.
By working with allies in both the House and Senate and on both sides of the aisles, NCH has been able to convince appropriators to keep funding these programs, albeit at these low levels. We’ve been joined in that effort by colleagues in the civics and social studies communities.
At critical milestones in the upcoming appropriations process, NCH will be reaching out through our member organizations like NCHE, asking you to contact your representatives and senators urging them to support not just funding these programs but making them more robust. No one can make the case to Congress better than history educators with real-life experience back in their state or district.
Five years ago, working with Representatives John Larson (D-Ct.) and Tom Cole (R-Ok.), NCH assisted in the creation of the Congressional History Caucus in the House. The History Caucus provides a forum for members of Congress to share their interest in history and to promote an awareness of the subject on Capitol Hill. The caucus has helped our community be considered a resource by Congress and allowed us to build lasting relationships between Members of Congress and history stakeholders in their respective districts. The Congressional History Caucus is currently being reorganized, but soon we will be asking you to contact your Member of Congress and asking them to join.
NCH wants to thank NCHE for renewing their partnership with us and we look forward to working with you to promote the cause of history education here in Washington.

About NCHE

The National Council for History Education provides professional and intellectual leadership to foster an engaged community committed to the teaching, learning, and appreciation of diverse histories.