National Writing Project

NWP Appropriation Still in Limbo

By: Andy Bradshaw
Publication: The Voice, Vol. 7, No. 5
Date: November-December 2002

With Washington embroiled in foreign policy debates and election year politics, Congress has made very little progress on its fiscal year 2003 domestic spending bills this fall. As a result, Congress and the president have been forced to pass a series of continuing resolutions to keep the government open for business. And a number of federally supported programs, including the National Writing Project, have been left to wonder what level of funding they will receive next year.

In July, the Senate Appropriations Committee approved a $136.6 billion fiscal year 2003 spending bill for Labor, Health and Human Services (HHS), and Education. The Senate plan would increase overall funding for education by 9 percent and fund a number of small education programs—including the National Writing Project—that were recommended for elimination by the Bush administration.

NWP would receive $18 million under the current Senate plan, thanks in large part to the efforts of Sen. Thad Cochran (R-MS). A stalwart backer of the project for more than a decade, the Mississippi senator provided crucial support for NWP throughout the appropriations process this summer. As of press time, the full Senate had yet to approve the spending package, but they are expected to do so shortly.

Things are less clear in the House of Representatives, however. The House Republican leadership has been adamant that the House spend no more than $130 billion on Labor, HHS, and Education—the level of funding that President Bush recommended for those programs earlier this year. Democrats and moderate Republicans have complained that the president's request provides inadequate resources to implement reforms outlined in the No Child Left Behind Act. As of press time, the controversy had yet to be settled, prompting Congress and the president to approve continuing resolutions to finance Labor, HHS, and Education programs at fiscal year 2002 levels during October.

If the House ultimately passes a bill that provides $130 billion for Labor, HHS, and Education, in all likelihood, it will not include funding for NWP. If the bill exceeds $130 billion, however, it may provide federal dollars for the writing project.

Even if the House eliminates funding for the writing project altogether, NWP will likely maintain some level of federal funding next fiscal year. A House-Senate conference committee will convene later this fall to hash out any differences the two chambers have on education spending. While it's impossible to predict what level of funding NWP would receive under such a scenario, it's unlikely that Congress would cut the program entirely. Project directors expect an appropriation between $9 million and $18 million. The project received $14 million in federal funding last year.

Department of Education Reorganized

Secretary of Education Rod Paige recently announced the formation of two new departments within the Department of Education: the Office of Safe and Drug Free Schools and the Office of Innovation and Improvement (OII). The latter will oversee about 30 education programs, including the National Writing Project, Reading is Fundamental, Troops-to-Teachers, and Arts in Education. OII will be a nimble, entrepreneurial arm of the Education Department, according to a press release from Paige's office, "making strategic investments in promising practices and widely disseminating their results."

The new office will also lead the movement for greater parental options in education, coordinating programs that deal with charter schools, public school choice, magnet schools, and family educational rights. Nina Shokraii Rees, a former domestic policy adviser to Vice President Cheney, is heading up the Office of Innovation and Improvement. The reorganization took effect October 1, 2002.

Project directors believe the innovation and improvement office will find lots to like about NWP. The writing project is, by its nature, entrepreneurial. If local NWP sites don't provide quality services, they don't attract enough teachers to their site and eventually go out of business. NWP sites undergo stringent evaluation on an annual basis and if their programs are inadequate, they lose their funding. The project is a highly sought commodity in parts of the country, with some sites turning away more summer institute applicants than they accept. Many local sites charge fees for the services they provide to local schools and school districts.

Paige has said OII will become the Department of Education's "expert in leveraging competitive grant programs for maximum learning and maximum impact." While this certainly puts an onus on NWP to continue showing how writing project programming improves student performance, project directors believe they are up to the task. The program has been proven successful by several outside evaluators. And NWP is one of the most cost-effective education programs in the country, with local sites leveraging an average of $5 for each $1 they receive in federal funding.

"Accountability and entrepreneurial thinking are things that come naturally to the writing project," says NWP Executive Director Richard Sterling.

If you have questions regarding the federal funding of NWP, please contact publicaffairs@nwp.org.

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