The United States Senate Appropriations Committee has voted to pass its funding bill for health and education programs for next year. Budget cuts forced difficult tradeoffs and even cuts to popular programs. However, it is disappointing that once again, the bill included no federal support for teaching history, civics, geography or economics. This is even more disappointing because the Senate created a new competitive grants program to support instruction in the arts. Now, we don't have anything against teaching the arts. In fact, research shows that engaging arts programs can help reduce high school drop out rates and engage students in academic study (not unlike engaging approaches to teaching the social studies!) But it is discouraging that the Senate acknowledged the importance of the arts, without any recognition of the social studies.
So, what did the arts do to grab the attention of Senate appropriators? Why were the arts funded? And is there anything we can, or is it time to throw in the towel?
The arts community sent a loud and clear message to Congress about the importance of funding for the arts. How did they do it? They deployed all the skills they learned in their high school civics classes! Teachers, students, administrators, celebrities - they emailed, called, and met with their Members of Congress to talk about the contribution that the arts make to a well-rounded education. Their community was strongly united, and the phone calls, emails, faxes, and meeting requests came pouring in. The result? Competitive grants for the arts.
History, civics, economics and geography is well represented in DC, and NCSS leadership has been working hard in concert with other organizations in our community to carry our wins in the Senate ESEA reauthorization bill over to the funding bill. But we need more voices, more boots on the ground. And we need them in a hurry. In short, we need YOU!
The House subcommittee making decisions about education and health funding has postponed its consideration of its bill until some time in the second week of July. This gives us a short period of time to push legislators to include funding for the social studies in their version of the FY 2013 funding bill. But if we want to be successful, it is absolutely vital that Members of the House hear loud and clear from large numbers of constituents letting them know that funding for the social studies is a priority. Representatives can also cosponsor the Sandra Day O'Connor Civic Learning Act, which will send a message about the importance of funding innovative programs in civic education.
So, what can you do? Take five minutes to make one important phone call. Then, ask your colleagues, friends, neighbors and family to do the same thing!
- If you don't know your Representative's name, go to www.house.gov  and look him or her up by entering your zip code.
- Call the DC office for your Representative at the number listed on the Member's website, or call the Capitol switchboard at (202) 225-3121 and ask to be connected to that Representative’s office.
- Ask whoever answers the phone in your Representative’s office to connect you to the Legislative Assistant who handles education issues.
- When you talk to the assistant (or leave a message) identify yourself as a constituent. Ask if your Representative would please do two things:
- Call Chairman Rehberg and ask for competitive grants for civics and for history in the Fund for the Improvement of Education in the FY 2013.
- Sign on as a cosponsor of H.R. 3464, The Sandra Day O’Connor Civic Learning Act.
Even though it's summer vacation, it's time to take Congress to school!