National Writing Project

NWP Included in New Education Bill

By: Andy Bradshaw
Publication: The Voice, Vol. 6, No. 4
Date: September-October 2001

Summary: The Senate and House of Representatives passed education bills this summer reauthorizing NWP, which means the writing project will likely remain eligible to receive federal funding for the next five years.

 

Once again, the hard work of writing project directors, co-directors, teachers, and other supporters has paid dividends in Washington, D.C. Despite fears that block granting and other consolidation initiatives might put the writing project's future in jeopardy, both the House and Senate passed elementary and secondary education bills this summer that include reauthorization of the National Writing Project. This means NWP will likely remain eligible to receive federal funding for at least the next five years.

 

As always, the NWP enjoyed strong bipartisan support during this year's reauthorization efforts, with Senator Thad Cochran (R-MS) and Representative George Miller (D-CA) leading the way. Cochran's "Education Programs of National Significance" amendment was added to the Senate bill (S. 1) just prior to passage, safeguarding a spot for NWP and several other small education programs that were not originally included in the bill. Miller, the ranking Democrat on the House Education and the Workforce Committee, played a key role in negotiations with the White House and other committee leaders, securing a place for NWP in legislation on the House side (H.R. 1). Together, these legislators have formed the backbone of NWP support on Capitol Hill since 1991, the first year the project received federal funding.

As of press time, congressional negotiators continue to meet, attempting to resolve differences between the House and Senate education bills. NWP's inclusion in both the House and Senate versions, however, means reauthorization of the program should be a part of the legislation that is finally sent to the White House. President Bush has said he wants to sign a finalized education bill by mid-September.

NWP's reauthorization, while representing a major stamp of approval from Washington, D.C., on the work the project does for teachers and students, does not guarantee the writing project will actually receive federal funds for each of the next five years. To guarantee receipt of funding, Congress and the president must approve education appropriations that include an earmark for NWP. Congressional appropriators will begin negotiating a fiscal 2002 education spending bill in late September. A number of writing project supporters have already been in contact with legislators, urging them to support full funding for NWP.

NWP received a $10 million appropriation in fiscal 2001. Based on the strong bipartisan support the program garnered this spring and summer, project directors are hopeful Congress will match or exceed that level this year.

The Long Road to Reauthorization

The effort to ensure continued federal funding of the writing project resumed early this year, when more than 150 site leaders and teachers converged on Washington, D.C., for the annual NWP Spring Meeting in April. Following a kickoff meeting that included speeches by Sen. Cochran, Sen. Jack Reed (D-RI), and Rep. Roger Wicker (R-MS), NWP supporters representing 39 states and the District of Columbia canvassed the Capitol, meeting with their elected officials and legislative aides to educate them on the important role played by the writing project in their local schools and communities.

In mid-April, NWP Executive Director Richard Sterling joined Sherry Swain, director of the Mississippi Writing/Thinking Institute (MWTI), and several other Mississippi educators to testify at a U.S. Senate field hearing on the National Writing Project, held in Bay St. Louis, Mississippi. Cochran presided over the hearing, reiterating his support for the program while emphasizing project successes.

By all accounts, the testimony given on behalf of NWP was passionate and well received. "The training courses it (MWTI) offers are not one-shot, sit-and-get sessions offered by experts who are far removed from the classroom," said Huntley Biggs, executive director of the Mississippi Power Education Foundation, a grant-making organization that supports K–12 education in Mississippi. "This is in sharp contrast to most staff development, which is focused on generating hours of credit rather than on improving classroom teaching."

"Who would have ever guessed that one teacher attending one summer institute would have created so much change?" testified Dr. Kim Myrick-Stasny, superintendent of the Bay St. Louis-Waveland School District.

By May, NWP's national letter-writing campaign was in full swing, with hundreds of NWP supporters contacting Congress to urge their senators and representatives to co-sponsor NWP and support reauthorization of the professional development program. The testimonials found in the letters were powerful:

I truly believe the National Writing Project is one of the finest staff development programs this nation has ever seen. Indeed, it has been at the heart of assisting teachers to become better teachers of writing. To kill this program is to kill one of the strongest educational programs we have going for us in this country. 
—Dr. Samuel Totten, Director, Northwest Arkansas Writing Project

I would like to tell you about a wonderful experience that has permanently changed my attitude toward writing and the teaching of writing: the Kennesaw Mountain Writing Project. 
—Ruth Cipolla, Kennesaw Mountain Writing Project (Georgia)

No college or graduate courses we have taken have impacted our teaching as has the National Writing Project. 
—James and Kay Brimeyer, Iowa Writing Project

As always, sites used a variety of methods to communicate with Washington, D.C. Group letters were signed by as many as 30 teachers and sent to Capitol Hill, and many sites enlisted the help of local officials, former legislators, and prominent business people in the campaign. One site even persuaded Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-SD) to come out for a site visit.

Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-SD) at the Dakota Writing Project.

On July 2, Daschle sat down for an hour-long conversation with teachers at the Dakota Writing Project (DWP) summer institute. The discussion ranged from block granting to teacher pay, standardized testing, and the value of DWP programming. "By far, besides my parents, the most influential people in my life have been my teachers," the new Senate Majority Leader and long-time NWP co-sponsor told the gathering.

As of press time, 90 members of the House and 22 senators have signed on as NWP co-sponsors. While these figures are lower than in years past, congressional sources say that legislators have been reluctant to co-sponsor any bills introduced this year, not just NWP-related legislation. Of far greater significance is the fact that both the Senate and House voted overwhelmingly in favor of education bills that include reauthorization of NWP (91-8 in the Senate, 384-45 in the House).

If you have questions regarding federal funding and reauthorization of the National Writing Project, please contact publicaffairs@nwp.org.

About the Author Andy Bradshaw is a NWP staff member working on NWP's federal reauthorization campaign.

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