Tuesday, March 20, 2018 News

Congress Funds $5 Million Open Textbook Grant Program in 2018 Spending Bill

Open Education

Congress is providing its first ever funding for open textbooks, and the SPARC community helped make it happen

Update: The FY18 omnibus appropriations bill was signed into law on March 23, 2018, including the $5 million open textbook grant program.

In a landmark victory for the Open Education movement, the U.S. Congress has included funding for a $5 million open textbook grant program in the Fiscal Year 2018 omnibus appropriations bill unveiled today. This marks the first major investment by Congress explicitly in open educational resources (OER) as a solution to the high cost of college textbooks, and underscores that course materials are a significant factor in making higher education affordable. The FY18 omnibus is expected to proceed swiftly to votes in the House and Senate and get signed into law this week.

We have posted the language creating the grant program on our policy page, and will continue to add more information as we have it.

The $5 million investment is the result of a grassroots campaign organized by SPARC and our coalition partner U.S. PIRG over the last month. SPARC coordinated a letter to Congressional leadership signed by more than 60 of our member libraries from 30 states, along with phone calls and tweets to key lawmakers from members of the SPARC and OpenCon communities. U.S. PIRG coordinated with student activists to generate calls and tweets on campus, and organized a letter signed by more than 50 student governments. Senator Dick Durbin (Illinois) and Congressman Jared Polis (Colorado) championed the provision inside the beltway.

The $5 million will be awarded as competitive grants to institutions of higher education through the U.S. Department of Education. Open textbooks created under the bill will be released under a permissive open license, ensuring everyone can freely use, share and build upon the content.

Providing this funding for open textbooks is the most significant action Congress has taken in support of OER to date, and builds on a strong track record of state-level programs. States including Georgia and North Dakota have funded open textbook grant programs that have ultimately saved students more than ten times the amount invested. As such, the $5 million Congress included in the FY18 bill could save students $50 million or more.

As the appropriations process for Fiscal Year 2018 comes to a close, Congress will now turn to negotiations for Fiscal Year 2019 ahead of the September 30 deadline. This year’s open textbook funding is part of a $2 billion FY18 commitment to programs that aid college affordability and completion in the two-year budget deal Congress struck in February. Another $2 billion will be available in FY19, and SPARC has already begun advocacy efforts to ensure that Congress directs more funding toward open textbooks. Our long-term goal remains permanently authorizing a federal open textbook grant program through the Affordable College Textbook Act.

Join the celebration of this momentous victory on social media by using #opentextbooksFY18.

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