College & Workforce Readiness

Budget Deal Restores Literacy Aid, Cuts U.S. History Program

By Erik W. Robelen — December 16, 2011 3 min read
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A budget compromise just announced in Washington would breathe new life into a major federal literacy initiative, but abolish funding altogether for some other Department of Education programs targeting aspects of the curriculum, including teaching American history, foreign languages, and civic education. The Math and Science Partnerships program and Arts in Education, meanwhile, would see small cuts.

For the big picture, check out this Politics K-12 blog post.

The new budget deal for fiscal 2012, which technically began Oct. 1, apparently reflects a bipartisan effort in Congress, but it still must be approved by the full House and Senate. Votes are expected today.

The Committee for Education Funding helpfully developed a detailed rundown of the Education Department’s numbers in the omnibus package, which I draw upon for all figures in this blog post.

All told, the Department of Education’s budget would stay about the same, at $68 billion, compared with last year’s levels. But there’s plenty of changes within that total.

One big change is that lawmakers have decided to restore the moribund Striving Readers Comprehensive Literacy program, which seeks to promote literacy from birth to the end of high school. It received no money last year, but in a quirk of the budget process, money from the year before is fueling grants to six states announced in September. Those states will use the federal aid, $180 million in all, to pursue comprehensive efforts to improve literacy outcomes for all students.

However, not all literacy programs fared as well. The Literacy Through School Libraries program, zeroed out last year, was not restored this year. The same is true for the National Writing Project.

The Teaching American History program, long championed by the late-Sen. Robert Byrd of West Virginia, did not survive this year, after last year managing to stay afloat (but with half its former budget). This is sure to be a disappointment to many history education advocates, as I’ve discovered that the program, which supports a lot of professional development among history teachers, appears to be well liked by many educators.

Meanwhile, the federal Arts in Education has survived with only a small cut, down from $27 million to $25 million. Also, it seems that P.E. is a priority of many lawmakers, as the Carol M. White Physical Education Program saw virtually no change in its budget of $79 million.

The budget compromise did not embrace President Barack Obama’s proposal to restructure federal aid across the curriculum. He has proposed replacing a wide variety of programs, including many of those listed above, with three new initiatives for Effective Teaching and Learning in literacy, STEM, and a “well-rounded” education (sort of a catchall category).

At the same time, the budget package would continue federal funding for two prized Obama priorities: the Race to the Top and Investing in Innovation (i3) programs. I’ve written repeatedly about how funds in those two initiatives have focused in part on efforts to improve literacy, STEM education, and even arts integration across the curriculum, among other priorities. Just recently, we noted how STEM education, for example, won big in the latest round of the federal i3 competition.

So here’s a quick overview of some key programs and their fate in the budget package:

• Striving Readers Comprehensive Literacy: $159 million (up from $0)

• Literacy Through School Libraries: $0 (no change)

• Math and Science Partnerships: $150 million (down from $175 million)

• Foreign Language Assistance: $0 (down from $27 million)

• National Writing Project: $0 (no change)

• Teaching American History: $0 (down from $46 million)

• Advanced Placement: $27 million (down from $43 million)

• Excellence in Economic Education: $0 (down from $1.4 million)

• Arts in Education: $25 million (down from $27 million)

• Carol M. White Physical Education: $79 million (no change)

• Civic Education: $0 (down from $1.2 million).

As mentioned, this budget package is not a done deal, as it still must be approved by the full House and Senate. Stay tuned.

A version of this news article first appeared in the Curriculum Matters blog.