The U.S. Constitution guarantees certain freedoms–but it appears federally funded schools aren’t free to teach about these whenever they want.

If you didn’t read the Federal Register on May 24, you might have missed an important Notice of Implementation from the U.S. Department of Education’s (ED’s) Office of Innovation and Improvement. It says Congress has passed legislation that requires all educational institutions receiving federal funding to hold an educational program pertaining to the United States Constitution on Sept. 17 each year.

For those of us who are not history buffs (or are too old to remember our U.S. history course in high school), the U.S. Constitution was signed on Sept. 17, 1787. From now on, Sept. 17 will be known as “Constitution Day and Citizenship Day.” If that date falls on a Saturday, Sunday, or holiday, the day must be observed either the week before or the week after Sept. 17.

An educational program must be held on Constitution Day and Citizenship Day by any school that receives federal funding from any department, not just ED–regardless of when in the curriculum or school year this topic generally falls. Some people will not be surprised to learn that there are no authorized funds to carry out this requirement; however, the Federal Register notice contains some web site resources with information to help you develop lesson plans and activities for this special day. According to the notice, ED’s Assistant Deputy Secretary for Innovation and Improvement would like this new requirement to be observed starting this fiscal year–about two months from now.

Missing from the notice is how ED plans to monitor educational institutions’ participation in Constitution Day and Citizenship Day. Nor are any penalties outlined for those who do not abide by the regulation.

(By no means am I insinuating that schools deliberately will not, or should not, observe this event on Sept. 17. I just wonder whether there will be any penalties imposed, and if so, what will they be? Will federal funding be withheld during the current fiscal year? Will the amount of federal funding be lowered in the following fiscal year? And how would ED know if schools are not complying with the law?)

Why am I even discussing this in a column that deals with grants and funding? First of all, I thought it was important to call this requirement to your attention, in case you hadn’t seen it before. If there is any mechanism for penalizing schools that do not comply, you shouldn’t be caught unaware. But as I was reading this Federal Register notice, a few additional thoughts and questions began to take form in my mind.

I have talked to many grantees over the years, and some have expressed a feeling of being “at the mercy” of funders. They feel pressured in a variety of ways, not the least of which is the need to complete specific pieces of paperwork by certain deadlines in order to receive funding. In some cases, however, funders have even taken a very hands-on approach and actually played a role in carrying out a project they are funding. Some grantees have put forth the question, “When is enough, enough?” Should grantees be willing to jump through every hoop that is put in front of them by a funder in order to receive financial support? Should a grantee have the right to negotiate some of the conditions that a funder requires–or is it wiser to agree to all of the conditions in order to get the money and not jeopardize future funding?

And now, the majority of school districts must observe Constitution Day and Citizenship Day on Sept. 17 because they receive federal funds to help educate their students. Is the government going too far? I’d love to learn your thoughts about this topic, and I’ll develop a follow-up article with your opinions.

See this related link:

Federal Register notice

Deborah Ward, CFRE, is an independent grant writing consultant. She welcomes questions at (717) 295-9437 or