For the many years that the NWP received federal funding, the advocacy issues were clear: keep us authorized and in the budget! Now, however, the field is a little more complex with Congressional offices and the US DOE juggling a number of questions that affect the NWP. To keep abreast of the changing landscape, read Bob Jobin's blog posts. Bob will be following federal issues and posting news regularly.
For an overview of key advocacy issues at the federal level, read below:
"Direct funding" and the definition of earmarks
Congress has adopted a general definition of earmarks that includes any entity directly mentioned in legislation: "these funds are earmarked for X entity to do Y". Earmarks, or direct funding, stands in contrast to competitive funding. Competitive funding does not name a recipient; rather it appropriates a funding stream for which eligible entities can compete. In the 2011 Budget, NWP lost direct funding.
These definitions of earmarks and direct/competitive funding have been in place for several years, and legislators came to hold themselves to the practice of registering a list of the earmarks they supported in order to create transparency. However following the 2008 and 2010 elections, many legislators pledged to not support any earmarks at all.
Earmarks still receive support in some areas of the budget: defense, transportation, and others. But in education and human services, Congress is not funding earmarks. That means that legislation that directly names the NWP as the recipient of funds is unlikely to move forward at this time. (The NWP can, of course, for federal grants in any area where NWP is an eligible applicant such as funds connected to the 'set aside': see below.) Solving 'the earmark problem' is therefore an important advocacy issue and leads to the next idea—"programs of national significance."
Funding for Programs of National Significance
Most people are surprised to think of the NWP as an earmark since it has been voted on as an authorized program and since it serves the entire nation. This doesn't fit the image of earmarks as 'bridges to nowhere' and 'tea pot museums.' In fact, even opponents of earmarks have expressed that we are not the type of program they had in mind when they decided not to support earmarks. Ah, but yet we DO fit the definition.
One strategy that some advocates in Washington are supporting is the creation of a special category, informally called "Programs of National Significance", that would name approved entities like the NWP that broadly serve the nation. Being identified as a program of national significance would then exempt the entity from the earmark ban.
The category "programs of national significance" does not yet exist, but it is an idea being floated in connection to ESEA reauthorization and might succeed as a solution to the earmark problem. Even if it doesn't succeed, the idea itself points to the support for funding streams that would support entitites like the NWP: national non-profits. That brings us to the "set-aside."
SEED grants - aka the 'Set-Aside'
Until a solution is worked out around the earmark problem, our only generalized federal funding is likely to come from competitive funding streams for which non-profits might qualify. In other words, we can compete for federal grants to support work by the network and/or clusters of sites that matches the mission of the competition.
The catch is that most federal education funding streams are designed to go directly to State Education Agencies (SEAs) or occasionally districts and universities. A national entity like the NWP may not qualify for many of the opportunities that are available. (Sites can access these funds through states and districts, of course, and should!)
To remedy this situation, a specific funding stream was worked out in the final 2011 Budget. This funding stream allocated 1% of the DOE allocation for Teacher Quality State grants and 'set it aside' to create a competitive fund for national non-profits. The NWP, and many other groups like TFA and NBPTS, would be eligible to compete for these funds. These are still competitive rather than directed funds, so NWP would need to mount a competitive program that addresses the priorities of the funding. The guidelines for this funding stream of 2011 budget monies were announced in September 2011 under the heading Supporting Effective Educator Development (SEED), and as we hoped included a category for the teaching of writing as a national priority. This gives NWP a strategy to compete for funds to be able to award grants to sites to work on the priorities in the legislation.
As an advocacy issue, the 1% set-aside only amounts to about $25M dollars for everyone. As a comparison, $25M was about the amount for the NWP alone before the funding was eliminated. In Spring of 2011 there were proposals in both the House and the Senate to increase the set aside to 5%. This would create a much larger pool for the competition. On the House side, George Miller and Chris Van Hollen circulated a Dear Colleague letter to support the 5% expansion. On the Senate side, Senator Barbara Mikulski circulated a similar letter. Many writing project folks wrote in support of these Dear Colleague letters.
If this effort to expand the set-aside were successful, it would not affect the federal budget until 2012. The 2011 pool would remain at 1%. The success of this effort is, of course, tied to the federal budget overall and the budget for education in particular, so we need to keep an eye overall education spending.
Reauthorization of ESEA
ESEA, or the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, is the primary legislation supporting K-12 schools. The last time it was reauthorized was under George Bush when it was dubbed "No Child Left Behind." Authorization ran out in 2007, which means we have been living under the continuing provisions of the previous Act. Many voices have been pushing for this Congress to get to work on reauthorization, though full reauthorization is doubtful before the 2011 mid-terms.
During the reauthorization process, the NWP will be interested in its status as a program since NWP was an "authorized" program in ESEA since the early 1990s. In addition, NWP will be interested in provision for any entity other than SEAs and LEAs to receive federal funding.
Reauthorization has taken some challenging twists and turns with the arrival of the new Congress in January 2011, and the House and the Senate seem far apart in their visions. (Nothing new there.) For good routine coverage of ESEA at this point, we recommend the Politics K-12 blog at EdWeek.