Feb 21

What the FY19 budget request does, and doesn’t do, for STEM learning

On February 12, the White House released its FY19 budget request. As expected, it reiterated much of the FY18 request, including deep cuts to and elimination of many discretionary programs. This year’s request was made more confusing due to the congressional budget deal reached just days before the WH FY19 budget request. Because that budget deal included a significant increase to both defense and non-defense budget caps, the administration released a budget addendum, which added back funds to many programs slated for reductions or eliminations before the deal was reached. While this addendum seems to benefit some science sectors, science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education is still a casualty of the FY19 budget request.

Money talks. Here’s what it says.

Not only is the sole dedicated federal funding stream for afterschool and summer learning proposed for elimination: the president’s request once again eliminates funding for grant programs in the Every Student Succeeds Act’s Title IV-A (Student Support and Academic Enrichment) and Title II (Preparing, Training, and Recruiting High-Quality Teachers, Principals, or Other School Leaders).

Together, these eliminations continue an assault on teaching and the development of well-rounded students. These cuts are particularly harmful to STEM learning, as these funds are often used to recruit and train educators in high-need fields and provide students experiential learning opportunities critical for active STEM engagement. How can we expect to effectively improve STEM and computer science education, which are stated administration priorities, while eliminating investments in teacher training and related support programs?

Those who have been following the administration’s stated priorities around STEM and computer science education may be wondering how the proposed budget will make good on the $200M in dedicated STEM and CS education funding promised in a 2017 Presidential Memorandum. The administration seeks to meet this commitment in two ways. First, they propose increasing the allocation to the Education Innovation and Research (EIR) program at the Department of Education to $180M, up from roughly $95M in FY17. Currently, this program awards competitive grants for innovation in all areas of education, including literacy and teacher professional development, and is not dedicated exclusively to STEM education innovation. Second, they intend to add a $20M competitive grant program for STEM-focused career and technical education programs.

Both of these requests would require congressional support, which appears especially unlikely with respect to the near doubling of the EIR budget. Furthermore, that program would need to shift to a completely STEM-focused effort if it is to satisfy the $200M STEM funding promise. This will surely draw the ire of the non-STEM education community, who would see cuts to their work in the many other Department of Education programs slated for elimination. Meanwhile, none of the requests fully elucidate how STEM education funds will be spent specifically on computer science learning, leaving many to wonder how computer science education will be prioritized and to what degree.

While the budget addendum adds back $300M to NASA’s budget, it wasn’t enough to save the NASA Office of Education from proposed elimination. If this office is closed, all the education programs run through it will end, including longstanding efforts such as the Minority University Research and Education Project (MUREP), which has been giving predominately underrepresented students in STEM disciplines across the K-20 continuum access to internships, scholarships, fellowships, mentoring, and tutoring in K-12, informal, and higher education settings. 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 addendum restored what would have been a $2.2B, or roughly 30 percent, cut to NSF’s overall budget; this was critically important to the Education and Human Resources Directorate,  which would be level-funded if Congress agrees to the administration’s request. While level funding may seem positive, it is not enough to make up for the education-related eliminations and reductions at other scientific agencies.

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

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 by the Harvard PEAR Institute 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 and worked to elevate 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.

Find tools for learning and sharing the values of afterschool STEM on the Afterschool STEM Hub website.

What can the field do?

The administration’s budget request is only a suggestion and ultimately Congress controls the purse strings. Take action now by contacting your representatives to voice your support for 21st Century Community Learning Centers and express your opposition to these devastating cuts to STEM education.