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June 13, 2013
President Obama’s budget request for fiscal year 2014 (FY14) included a massive restructuring of the nation’s science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education programs. Of the existing 226 or more programs, almost half are slated for consolidation or cancellation.
To give some background, the realignment transitions the nation’s STEM-Ed effort from a vertical integration to a horizontal integration. In other words, rather than having many narrowly focused programs for children, age 4 through graduate school, realignment would transition to a few widely focused programs reaching students of a specific age range.
The Department of Education would steward K-12 programs; NSF would shepherd undergraduate and graduate programs, and the Smithsonian Institute would be responsible for informal education programs.
The dramatic shift also includes a number of new programs slated for creation along with an overall budgetary increase for STEM-Ed of 6.7 percent. New programs such as the STEM Master Teacher Corps, STEM Innovation Networks, and the NSF CAUSE program are expected to move the administration’s STEM agenda forward (for more details, check out the President’s budget request here). Most of the new programs being considered will require appropriations from Congress to meet funding requirements.
While these new programs are exciting, concern remains regarding programs being slated for closure or consolidation. The 112 programs, many of which have demonstrated positive outcomes and have been well reviewed, are so small that Congress does not deal with them directly. Thus, the administration can direct agencies to close and consolidate most of the 112 programs with no congressional input.
The fact that congressional support is needed for the creation of new programs means that many STEM-ed programs could be closed with no new ones created to take their place. Alternatively, the proposed programs could be severely underfunded if Congress so chooses, undercutting their potential.
So far, congressional support for the proposed STEM realignment has not been overwhelming. During a recent House committee hearing, Rep. Eddie Bernice-Johnson (D-TX) said of the proposed realignment, “…I have serious concerns with the budget proposal itself. To be blunt, it seems to me it was not very well thought out.” Such sentiments were echoed from both sides of the aisle.
So what is the path forward at this point? APS has been strongly supportive of some of the newly proposed programs such as the STEM Innovation Networks at the Department of Education. Indeed, the Taskforce for Teacher Education and Preparation recently released a report in which the central recommendation was to form a network of regional centers for discipline specific professional development. The STEM Innovation Networks could be transformative in how we educate teachers in America to ensure student success.
On the other hand, APS has strongly supported many of the NASA E/PO programs slated for closure and recognizes the positive results from such programs may potentially be lost. Photographs from the Hubble Space Telescope have inspired a generation of young Americans and cultivated a thirst for knowledge that may otherwise have lain dormant.
What is perhaps more concerning is echoed in Rep. Bernice-Johnson’s comments. What are the specifics of the transition plan? How exactly is the expertise of the mission agencies going to be transferred? Given that mission agencies are uniquely positioned to recognize growing fields and future STEM workforce needs, how will the Department of Education and the Smithsonian Institute work with the mission agencies to relay such data? Until these questions are answered, the path forward is murky and based on loose assumptions.
We look forward to the administration’s release of details regarding the planned realignment and will keep you informed. In the meantime, feel free to offer your thoughts regarding the realignment.
DetailsPresident’s STEM Priorities