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When President Clinton signs into law the omnibus appropriations bill that provides $108.9 billion for the Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services and Education, he will be authorizing a $50 million earmark for history education (see Congressional Record-House; December 15, 2000; p. H-12111)

The history of how this amendment came about is worth noting. On June 27, Senators Joseph Lieberman (D-CONN), Slade Gorton (R-WA) together with Representatives Thomas E. Petri (R-WIS) and George Miller (D-CA) unveiled a Congressional Concurrent Resolution (S. Con. Res. 129; H. Con. Res. 366) designed to draw attention to what Congressman Petri characterized as "the troubling historical illiteracy of our next generation of leaders." Their resolution was based on the findings contained in "Losing America's Memory: Historical Illiteracy in the 21st Century," a report released by the American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA). According to the ACTA report, at 78 percent of the institutions surveyed, students are not required to take any history at all and that it is was possible for students to graduate from 100 percent of the top colleges without taking a single course in American history. The resolution offered by the Congressmen, therefore, expressed "the sense of Congress regarding the importance and value of United States history." It called upon boards of trustees, college administrators and state officials to strengthen American history requirements in the nation's schools, colleges and universities.

As a follow-up to the resolution, on June 30, Senator Robert Byrd (D-WV) then offered an amendment (no. 3731) to the Senate version of the FY 2001 Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education appropriation bill (H.R. 4577). His one-line amendment (actually hand-written by Byrd while sitting at his desk on the Senate floor) sought to provide $50 million to the Secretary of Education to award grants to states "to develop, implement, and strengthen programs that teach American history (not social studies) as a separate subject within school curricula." The grant money was earmarked for states to support the development of history programs in secondary schools. According to Senate sources, however, the amendment is written broadly enough to give the Secretary of Education discretion to use funds for the support of post-secondary history education programs as well.

The amendment was approved by a 98-0 margin in the Senate and was supported by the Clinton administration. However, because there was no similar language in the House passed version of the Labor/H&HS/Education bill, funding was not assured. The amendment was addressed by conferees when they met to resolve differences between the House and Senate versions of the appropriations bill. On July 20, conferees were appointed; a letter under the signature of the executive directors of the Organization of American Historians, the American Historical Association and the National Coordinating Committee for the Promotion of History was sent to all the conferees expressing support for the amendment by the historical community.

Ultimately, the conferees adopted the Byrd amendment but for months the conference report was held victim to legislative maneuvering - the timing of its release was (according to one staffer) to be "a political decision." Only when the final budget agreement was reached last week, was the historical community assured that the funding would be forthcoming.

Representatives of the historical community have already met with Department of Education officials about the expenditure of the funds; discussions will continue in the coming weeks.

NCC WASHINGTON UPDATE, Vol. 6, #45, December 21, 2000

by Bruce Craig of the National Coordinating Committee for the Promotion of History



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