Social Studies

Budget Pact Deals Blow to Literacy, History Programs

By Erik W. Robelen — April 13, 2011 2 min read
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A new budget compromise in Washington takes a heavy toll on some curriculum-related programs at the U.S. Department of Education, wiping out funding for the main literacy initiative altogether while cutting way back on the $119 million Teaching American History grants program, my colleague Alyson Klein reports over at Politics K-12.

The fiscal 2011 plan hammered out by lawmakers and the Obama administration provides no funding to continue the $250 million Striving Readers Comprehensive Literacy Program, Alyson notes. (However, a proposal by House Republicans to strip away some $189 million in fiscal 2010 Striving Readers aid that had not yet been obligated was dropped.) The bipartisan plan also would eliminate the $19 million Literacy Through School Library Program.

As for Teaching American History grants, which are extremely popular with many history educators—and are widely seen as helping them better understand the past and giving them new tools to teach about it—the funding would be reduced by $73 million. That said, given the current fiscal climate, the fact that the program apparently will remain intact is good news for its fans. If the money had been wiped away altogether, it might have been far more difficult, politically, to restart the history-grants program in future years.

Keep in mind that all these cuts refer to funding for the current fiscal year, which began last Oct. 1. Lawmakers still have to get back to making budget decisions for fiscal 2012.

Andrew Mink, the director of outreach and education at the University of Virginia’s Curry School of Education, told me this morning that there was a big push by educators, historians, and others to protect the Teaching American History grants program. (Mink has been involved with several grants in Virginia under the program.) And while he said it’s disappointing to see the big cut, he’s relieved that the program will continue.

“Once funding is [abolished], you can’t regenerate it,” he said. “Keeping some blood in it was absolutely a victory.”

Meanwhile, here’s what Alyson had to say about some other programs of note:

“The bill also doesn’t restore funding for any of the national earmarks eliminated under the recent stopgap measure, including Teach for America, the National Writing Project, or the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards. But it does slice off 1 percent of the funding for the roughly $3 billion Teacher Quality State Grants program to be used to create a competitive grant program which would give those programs the opportunity to compete for funding.” [I’m guessing we can also include in this category, by the way, Reading Is Fundamental.]

For more background on the debate over funding for federal literacy programs, check out this EdWeek story.

I’ll revisit some of these issues when I have more time later, but wanted to at least get some of the basics on the radar of readers.

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