U.S. Congress Renews $5 Million Open Textbook Pilot For Second Year

By Nicole Allen

Today, the U.S. Congress reaffirmed the national role of “open” in the path to college affordability by renewing the $5 million federal Open Textbook Pilot for another year. Contained in the broader Department of Defense and Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education Appropriations Act of 2019, the program answers a call from students across the country to tackle textbook costs as a barrier to higher education. Passed by the House this evening, th bill is expected to be signed into law by the end of the week.

First established in March in a landmark win for the open education movement, the Open Textbook Pilot provides grants to colleges and universities to expand the creation and use of open educational resources, which are made freely available to download, edit, and share to reduce costs and better serve all students. Administered by the U.S. Department of Education under the Fund for the Improvement of Postsecondary Education (FIPSE) Program, the pilot builds on a track record of successful state-level programs from Georgia to North Dakota to Washington.

Once signed into law, the bill will provide another one-time $5 million appropriation for the Open Textbook Pilot, bringing the total federal investment to $10 million. Importantly, the bill also includes further instructions for the Department of Education designed to improve implementation. For the second round of grants, Congress specifies a clearer set of allowable activities, increases the length of the application period and number of awards, and strengthens open licensing requirements. These instructions are a direct response to recommendations that arose from the first round of funding, which is expected to be awarded later this week.

SPARC was proud to work alongside our ally U.S.PIRG and hundreds of students and librarians who took part in advocating for the Open Textbook Pilot, both this summer and back in March. Our member libraries spanning nearly every state participated by sending letters, placing calls, and sending tweets, which paved the way for our work on Capitol Hill.  SPARC is deeply grateful for the support of Senator Dick Durbin (IL) for being a steadfast champion for this issue, and we also thank Chairs Roy Blunt (MO) and Tom Cole (OK) and Ranking Members Patty Murray (WA) and Rosa DeLauro (CT) for supporting this appropriation in the Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies budget. Our other champions in Congress include Reps. Jared Polis (CO) and Kyrsten Sinema (AZ) and Sens. Angus King (ME) and Tina Smith (MN).

As the Open Textbook Pilot heads into its second year, SPARC looks ahead to the next Congress, where we will continue our efforts to renew funding and also seek to permanently establish an open textbook grant program through the Affordable College Textbook Act. It is too soon to tell when the Department of Education will begin implementing the second round of grants, but SPARC will also be closely monitoring to ensure the program has the greatest impact for students.