Mar 19

An anti-education, anti-science budget proposal

Photo by Gage Skidmore.

As expected, President Trump’s long-awaited “skinny budget” contained deep cuts to domestic discretionary spending. Particularly disappointing to those of us in the afterschool STEM education community are the outright eliminations of the programs that help young people develop science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) skills, literacy and proficiency—the currency needed to be hired in our modern world.

The elephant in the room

Let’s start with the biggest concern: the budget proposes to eliminate the 21st Century Community Learning Centers (21st CCLC) initiative, the sole federal funding source exclusively for afterschool. This program provides 1.6 million kids with innovative learning spaces after school.

Nearly 70 percent of parents with kids enrolled in afterschool programs report that their children receive some form of STEM learning opportunity in this setting. Not only that, 70 percent of all parents believe that afterschool programs should offer STEM activities and programming.

Don’t cut what works

Despite claims to the contrary, a great deal of widely available research illustrates the impact of afterschool programs, and substantial evidence documents STEM-specific outcomes. A recent multi-state study found that afterschool STEM programs are helping to close America’s skills gap. STEM Ready America, a recently-released compendium of articles from 40 experts, presents compelling evidence of the impact of afterschool STEM.

The Afterschool Alliance has long tracked outcomes and best practices in afterschool STEM programming, including a recent paper on the impacts of afterschool STEM. Our Afterschool Impacts Database offers a searchable, user-friendly collection of impacts data, and our STEM program profiles share examples of innovative afterschool STEM programs.

Additional proposed cuts in key areas for afterschool STEM

Collaboration between school and afterschool. The budget proposal does not mention the Student Support and Academic Enrichment Grants program, the new Title IV Part A block grant program authorized under ESSA that focuses heavily on STEM education, including in afterschool. This likely implies that no funding is sought for this program.

This is a huge disappointment. The activities authorized under this grant specifically supported well-rounded learning activities with a strong emphasis on STEM education and encouraged collaboration among personnel in schools, afterschool programs, and informal programs to better integrate programming and instruction in STEM subjects.

Professional development. The budget also eliminates the $2.4 billion Supporting Effective Instruction State Grants program (Title II of ESSA), which supports teacher professional development. The loss is a blow to afterschool STEM because these funds offer a way to support joint professional development and collaborations between in-school and out-of-school educators.

Programs. In addition to drastic cuts at the Department of Education, the proposal eliminates the $115 million budget for NASA’s Office of Education. This amounts to just 0.5 percent of NASA’s overall budget and less than 0.003 percent of the federal budget.

NASA is a globally-recognized brand name. Its mission excites young people everywhere about STEM. Leveraging these qualities, NASA partners with out-of-school time programs to offer engaging STEM education opportunities—for a fraction of a penny of your tax dollar, NASA delivers STEM education programming that gets young people excited not just about space but about STEM generally. Eliminating NASA’s Office of Education would also eliminate funding for informal and afterschool programs at science centers and through interagency afterschool program partnerships.

The Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS), which offers grants that support afterschool STEM programming at libraries, is also up for elimination. The future of funding for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s education programs faces uncertainty as well, imperiling NOAA grants for out-of-school STEM education.

Supports. The president’s budget eliminates funding for the Corporation for Community and National Service (CNCS), which runs the AmeriCorps VISTA program. Hundreds of VISTAs across the country currently support afterschool STEM programs. Without CNCS, this vital support will vanish.

What can the field do?

We must take heart in the fact that Congress ultimately controls the purse strings. We must fight for our programs and cannot give up easily. Your voice has never been more important as we fight for the United States we want to live in: one that takes care of its most vulnerable and prepares for a future that already is and will continue to be rooted in STEM.

Please contact your representatives to express your support for 21CCLC and express your disappointment about the other cuts to STEM education as well. We will share more action alerts in the coming weeks.