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Fiscal Cliff; Neb. Geography Standards; New AAG Resolution Endorsers

January 29, 2013

Washington Monitor

Fiscal Cliff Deal Leaves Key Issues Unresolved

On Jan. 2, President Obama used his autopen to sign “The American Taxpayer Relief Act” (H.R. 8) into law. This quirk was perhaps a fitting conclusion to a legislative scramble that promises to repeat itself several times during the new 113th Congress. While the bill did indeed prevent an increase of tax rates for most Americans, our elected officials once again managed to largely forestall a decision on the major budgetary issues facing our nation.

The biggest concern for the geography and scientific communities has been the possible imposition of sequestration – a deficit-reduction measure that would immediately slash federal agency budgets by approximately 8 percent. This would cost the National Science Foundation (NSF) approximately $575 million and would almost-certainly impact the ability of NSF’s Geography and Spatial Sciences Program to provide grant funding to worthy projects.

The final text of H.R. 8 delayed the implementation of the sequester from Jan. 1 to Mar. 1, but even as President Obama begins his second term, the White House remains sharply at odds with Congressional Republicans as to how to reach a lasting budget accord. Complicating matters is that federal agencies are currently operating under a “continuing resolution” (a bill that maintains funding levels from the previous fiscal year) that is set to expire on Mar. 31 and the federal debt limit needs to be raised within weeks or the government will default. 

All this is to say that the powers that be are at loggerheads in Washington and no easy answer is apparent. We at the AAG will continue to work with our friends in key coalitions to highlight the importance of federal science funding – stay tuned!

AAG Supports Win for Geography Standards in Nebraska

In late 2012, the Nebraska State Board of Education considered steps that would have slashed much of the human geography segments of the state’s proposed K-12 social studies standards. These actions, however, were forestalled thanks to a significant effort that included involvement from the AAG.

Nebraska was working to revise its social studies standards for the first time in two decades, and some advocates and policymakers in the state took issue with proposed human geography curricula that touched on hot-button issues such as cultural exchange, climate change, and land use. As a result, the Board released a survey in the fall asking for input on edits to the proposed standards that eliminated much of the human geography content.

In total, 1,000 survey responses were received with most of them favoring the inclusion of the full human geography curriculum. Executive Director Doug Richardson led the AAG response to the controversy by sending a letter to the Board on the importance of geography education and the need for K-12 students to be exposed to human geography concepts. The letter, which was quoted in the Lincoln Journal Star, asserted, “Eliminating key segments of the geography standards would undermine Nebraska’s efforts to develop a future workforce with the spatial-thinking skills critical to employment in the rapidly growing geospatial technologies field, as well as employment in homeland security, environmental stewardship, urban development, international diplomacy, and many other areas requiring strong academic preparation in geography.”

Ultimately, the Nebraska State Board voted 8-0 to adopt a version of the standards that included nearly all of the geography sections that were in the original draft, and the human geography curricula is now a significant aspect of the state’s standards. Great credit for the successful outcome goes to AAG Member Randy Bertolas, Professor of Geography at Wayne State College, who serves as Coordinator of the Geographic Educators of Nebraska. Bertolas took the lead in urging key groups and members of the public to rally behind the importance of full inclusion of human geography in the state standards.   

UPS, National Association of Workforce Boards Lead List of New AAG Resolution Endorsers

In recent weeks, several prominent individuals and organizations have signed onto the “AAG Resolution Supporting K-12 Geography Education.” The document explains the value and importance of geography education and urges policymakers to include funding for geography education as part of a reauthorized ESEA; to include geography and geospatial education in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) proposals; and to enhance geography teacher training. In recent weeks, the resolution has been endorsed by:

  • United Parcel Service, Inc.: UPS delivers more than 15 million packages a day to 6.1 million customers in more than 220 countries and territories around the world. The company has over 400,000 employees worldwide.
  • National Association of Workforce Boards: NAWB works to coordinate workforce strategies with education and economic development stakeholders to ensure workforce develop­ment and job training programs meet the needs of employers.
  • General Henry H. Shelton, USA, Ret.: General Shelton served a 38-year career in the U.S. Army and was appointed Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff by President Clinton in 1997. He spent four years as the nation’s highest-ranked military officer. 
  • Admiral Thad Allen, USCG, Ret.: Admiral Allen served as the 23rd Commandant of the Coast Guard and took charge of federal response efforts to Hurricane Katrina following the removal of FEMA Head Michael Brown. In 2010, he served as the National Incident Commander for the government’s response to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

We are grateful to these supporters for their endorsements of our efforts!   

John Wertman



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