Apr 27

What’s up in Washington D.C. on STEM?

Q: How’s the policy calendar looking today compared to what you were seeing in March ?

Thomas Phillips, congressional affairs specialist at Battelle, updates us on what’s going on at Capitol Hill.

A: We are still seeing delays in the release of substantive legislation, particularly around the Perkins Reauthorization, because right now the priority is coming to an agreement on the FY17 budget ahead of this week’s spending expiration. Additionally, the Senate has taken a long time to confirm the administration’s cabinet nominees, and there are many who have yet to be named, let alone confirmed. All of this adds up to a slower process, one which will hopefully pick up pace after the final FY17 Budget is in place.

Q:Before we go too deep, can you refresh us on the basics of the budget bill?

A: Speaking very generally, the federal government has been operating on a Continuing Resolution, or CR, because during the last appropriations process, Congress and the former administration were unable to agree upon the necessary appropriations bills. The CR allows appropriations to continue at pre-existing levels, for a set amount of time, or until a regular appropriations bill is passed. The current CR expires this week, and without an omnibus appropriations bill in place, a new CR, or a “cromnibus” (a combination of the two), the federal government will face a shut down.

Currently, the chance of a shutdown occurring are very low – Congressional staff have been working throughout recess to make spending deals that will, if nothing else, allow Congress to avoid the shutdown, while kicking the proverbial can further down the road.

Q: What are the central education issues at the forefront of this budget debate?

A: The biggest issue at stake in this budget for education, and particularly STEM, is around the spending authorized in Title IV Part A. As you may recall, when the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) was passed, it authorized $1.65 Billion in spending on the academic enrichment grants of Title IV Part A. These grants were block grants, to be distributed equally to all school districts. Unfortunately, neither the House nor the Senate were able to reach that $1.65 Billion figure when working on their appropriations bills. The House settled on an even $1 Billion, and the Senate on $300 Million. As it stands, discussions with committee staff in both the House and Senate indicate that an agreement has been reached that will appropriate $350 Million, but that will also change the structure of the program from be a block grant, to being a competitive grant. This is not what the program authorizers intended, and threatens the opportunities for direct state-level STEM funding. Should this agreement be included, the very nature of the program as authorized would change, but hopefully only for the next year. Additional language has been discussed to ensure that for FY18, the program be executed as originally authorized. I will provide more detail once the budget is confirmed.

Q: Other big updates? 

A: It’s been a busy time on Capitol Hill; I’ve been attending numerous hearings and meetings with the STEM Education Coalition and the Perkins CTE Coalition and trying to find inroads to establish a STEM and CTE coherence.

Additionally, Caroline King the Chief Policy and Strategy Officer of Washington STEM, testified on the critical role of STEM before the Appropriations Committee’s Subcommittee on Labor, HHS, Education, and Related Agencies. She did an incredible job representing

Washington STEM and STEMx, and I was fortunate enough to see her powerful testimony live and in person.