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Fall 2004
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"Crossing Borders"
A column by Doug Richardson,
Executive Director, Association of American Geographers

Geography Education Needs Congressional Support

Doug RichardsonWhile attending the American Council of Learned Societies annual meeting in Washington, D.C., recently, I had occasion to witness the celebrations of the historians as they tallied their multiple legislative gains in education funding on numerous fronts over the past few years. Bruce Cole, director of the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) announced a $25 million increase in NEH funding, most of which is to be earmarked for teaching history. The massive No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act, now in its third year of implementation, provides federal funding for history education in "such sums as necessary" (the FY 2004 budget request for history was $100 million). New legislation is pending, which would authorize another $25 million appropriation to establish and fund "a national alliance of teachers of American history and civics and other purposes."

The point isn't that we are opposed to funding for history. It is that geography is almost completely neglected in the funding for these major federal education programs. For example, in the No Child Left Behind Act, nine "core academic subjects" are identified (English, reading, or language arts; mathematics; science; foreign languages; civics and government; economics; arts; history; and geography). While we can be grateful that geography is included as a core subject in NCLB, it is the only discipline identified in the act with absolutely no specific program provisions or funding associated with it. The compilation below, drawn from an excellent report by National Geographic Society intern Ryan Daley for the Geography Education National Implementation Project (GENIP), summarizes all of the disciplines for which the NCLB Act has established programs and the amount of funding authorized by the act.

Program NameLegislation ReferenceAuthorized Appropriations
Reading FirstTitle I, Part B, Subpart 1$900,000,000
Early Reading FirstTitle I, Part B, Subpart 2$75,000,000
Even StartTitle I, Part B, Subpart 3$260,000,000
Improving Literacy Through School LibrariesTitle I, Part B, Subpart 4$250,000,000
Science and Mathematics PartnershipsTitle II, Part B$450,000,000
Writing (National Writing Project)Title II, Part C, Subpart 2$15,000,000
Civic EducationTitle II, Part C, Subpart 3$30,000,000
Teaching of Traditional American HistoryTitle II, Part C, Subpart 4Such sums as necessary
Foreign Language Assistance ProgramTitle II, Part C, Subpart 9$28,750,000
Physical Education (not a "core academic subject")Title II, Part C, Subpart 10Feds pay 90% for first year,
75% for second, third, etc.
Excellence in Economics EducationTitle II, Part C, Subpart 13Feds pay 50% of grants
Arts in EducationTitle II, Part C, Subpart 15Decided on per grant basis

This chart dramatically illustrates the need to establish an effective, ongoing public policy and legislative presence for geography, to not only monitor but also to shape federal policy that impacts geography education. The historians have not achieved their substantial gains by simply hoping that legislators would see the value of history education; they have carried that message to them, over and over, every step of the way through the legislative process. They have mobilized constituent support in legislative districts across the country. They have formed coalitions and leveraged the support of multiple professional associations, related interest groups, universities and schools, and a concerned public.

The case for geography and GIS education has never been stronger, more persuasive, or easier to make. In almost all other arenas, including research, higher education, geographic technologies, and societal applications, we are experiencing a rising tide for geography. We must find a way to translate this rising tide and the clear and compelling need for geography education at all levels into concrete and substantial federal and state funding opportunities.

To be successful in this and other related policy activities will require developing institutional capabilities within AAG and many other geography organizations to sustain a focused effort over time. It will require dedicated staff resources in Washington, D.C., and the help and support of geography and GIS professionals across the country. Developing a professional capability to represent geography's interests in federal policy and legislation will not happen overnight; it will take time and a great deal of effort, but the stakes are very high and the time is right. And, of course, if we don't learn from history, we may well be doomed to repeat it.

Feel free to contact me (e-mail: for more information about the AAG's new public policy office, or with any questions, comments, or ideas.

Doug Richardson

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