NATIONAL COALITION FOR HISTORY 2015 ANNUAL REPORT

(Prepared by Lee White, Executive Director, December 28, 2015)

2015 was an extremely successful and productive year for the National Coalition for History which saw the achievement of numerous major accomplishments in 2015. Foremost among these was the restoration of funding for K-12 history education in the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), was brought to fruition.

In addition, unexpected issues arose that allowed NCH to reinforce its role as the preeminent public voice for history, archives and our other constituencies. These included submitting comments to the federal government on the treatment of oral history in research and 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 emails.

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

Issues such as making the case for federal funding for history-related programs will always remain at the core of NCH’s agenda. However, in 2016 the coalition is poised to continue to transform itself beyond Washington to truly make 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 nearly a decade of false starts, President Obama has signed a new education law (Public Law 114-95) to replace the controversial No Child Left Behind Act; which was passed in 2001. On December 9, the US Senate voted 85–12 to approve the conference report to a bill (S. 1177) to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. On December 2, the House had approved the report by a vote of 359–64.

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.

  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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 the new programs authorized in the law are funded during the FY ’17 congressional appropriations process.

FY ’16 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 fiscal year 2016.  For example, the NEH budget was increased for the first time in six years by $2 million up to a level of $148 million. Potentially severe cuts in the Title VI/Fulbright-Hays International Education programs were defeated.

Of particular note is the level funding the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC) received 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 the FY’ 15 level of $5 million to $3 million. The situation allowed NCH to use the contacts gained from the Congressional History Caucus, and the cut was rescinded at the House Appropriations Committee markup. The NHPRC was only program in the entire bill to have funding restored.

This has become a mantra in recent years, but the fact that our interests survived intact should be considered a victory in this budget climate.

NCH comments on Human Subjects Research in HHS Rule

In September, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and fifteen other federal departments and agencies announced proposed revisions to the regulations for protection of human subjects in research.

The draft rule stated that “oral history, journalism, biography, and historical scholarship activities that focus directly on the specific individuals about whom the information is collected” be explicitly excluded from “the scope of the Common Rule.”  Moreover, the recommendations acknowledged the importance and value within oral history, and historical studies more generally, to identify individual actors in history, and recognized that there already existed discipline-specific codes of ethical conduct.

The Oral History Association’s (OHA) executive director, the late Dr. 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. (http://historycoalition.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/10/NCH-HHS-Human-Subjects-Proposed-Rule-10-30-15.pdf)

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 (http://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 2016. 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 and assist the Congressional History Caucus in achieving its mission of promoting history on Capitol Hill. We currently have 23 members in the House caucus, which is more than we had at 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 for 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 NCH staff. NCH member organizations sent solicitations to their members urging them to contact their House member and urge them to join. More information on the History Caucus can be found at (http://historycoalition.org/congressional-history-caucus)

NCH Organizational Update

As noted above, NCH launched a newly redesigned website in April 2015 with enhanced social media components. As a result, NCH was able to expand the frequency of communications with the full membership not just the policy board. Staff developed an infographic to highlight NCH’s achievements to existing members, and to solicit new and lapsed organizations to join the coalition.  Staff completed a “re-branding” project which included the development of a new logo for NCH for use on letterhead, the website, social media, business cards, etc. Emails recruiting new members were sent to numerous target organizations for follow-up. After the launch of the website, the interns devoted nearly all of their time on membership recruitment and retention.