You Can’t Spell “ESSA” Without “Civics”!


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 As you likely know by now, we have a new national education law, the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), which replaces the outdated No Child Left Behind Act of 2001. I’d like to provide you more detail on the new programs created by ESSA that benefit the field of civic education, and also take a look at what happens next.

Much has been written about what ESSA holds in store for returning control of education reform efforts to states and districts and focusing on development of the “whole student.” As a part of both of these broad provisions, ESSA permits state and local education leaders to include civics, and the social studies more broadly, in their self-determined definitions of what constitutes education focused on the “whole student.”

Specifically, ESSA creates:

  • A competitive grant program for non-profit organizations to run intensive, two to six week long academies in American history, civics and government for high school students and for teachers. (Title II, Part B, Sup-part 3, American History and Civic Education, Section 2232)
  • A competitive grant program for non-profit organizations to develop and disseminate innovative approaches to offering high quality instruction in American history, civics, government and geography for under-served students. (Title II, Part B, Sup-part 3, American History and Civic Education, Section 2233)
  • A requirement for local education agencies or LEAs (ie, school districts) to use a certain percentage of their federal money on coursework that supports a well-rounded education. LEAs can choose from a list of subjects that specifically includes history, civics, economics and geography as well as foreign languages, the arts, and other subjects. LEAs can partner with non-profits on this funding. (Title IV, Part A, Sub-part 1, Section 4107, Well Rounded Education Opportunities)
  • 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, social studies are eligible for grants. (Title IV, Part F, Sub-part 1 Education Innovation and Research) Note: This could be the source of much needed funding for evaluations of civic education programs.

So what happens next?

The House Appropriations Committee has recently begun work on the fiscal year 2017 budget, which will be the first federal budget to include funding for programs authorized by ESSA. My organization, the Campaign for the Civic Mission of Schools, is now engaged in a ‘campaign’ to ensure full funding for ESSA’s civic education provisions. On Feb. 9, at our request Rep. Dennis Ross (R-FL) and Rep. Gwen Graham (D-FL) sent a House Dear Colleague letter to all House members urging the Appropriations Committee to provide full funding for ESSA’s civic education programs. A Senate version will be sent the week of Feb. 22. Funding decisions likely will be finalized by October 2016 and the first grants are likely to be awarded in 2017.

Over the course of 2016, the Department of Education will prepare program guidelines and competitive criteria for the grant programs outlined in ESSA. The competitive funding awards will likely be made, and moneys distributed, for the first time in the second half of calendar year 2017.

We will keep you informed every step of the way as we work together to restore much needed federal level funding for our field. This will not only provide needed resources it also sends a powerful message to state and local policymakers, these subjects are important!

For more information please contact Ted McConnell at


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