Senate Passes K-12 Education Bill Including History Initiatives

On July 16, the U.S. 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.”

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 version of the bill (HR 5) along strict party lines by a vote of 218-213. Twenty-seven Republicans joined all 186 Democrats in opposition to 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. 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.

S. 1177 includes promising developments for history and civics education. It restores limited federal funding for both those subjects although a specific amount is not specified in the bill.

  1. 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.
  2. It also includes funding for Presidential and Congressional academies in American history and civics; these are intensive summer institutes for teachers and for students (sophomores and juniors in high school).
  3. Grants would be made available to non-profits 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 (FY) 2012 Congress terminated funding for the “Teaching American History” (TAH) grants program at the Department of Education. Appropriations earmarked for civic education and federal funding for National History Day, a nationally-recognized program which increases student participation in historical studies across the country, were also eliminated. As a result, since FY 11 there has been no federal funding provided for history or civics education.

Since the House bill does not contain this language, NCH plans a concerted advocacy effort to convince the House conferees to include funding for history and civics in the conference report.