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By Tawanda W. Johnson, APS Press Secretary
After APS members made the case for STEM education funding in the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), a U.S. Senate appropriations subcommittee voted to restore funding to the legislation.
The Trump Administration initially zeroed out funding in the president’s fiscal year 2018 budget for ESSA Title II, which states can use to support teacher preparation and quality programs such as PhysTEC and UTeach. The U.S. House followed suit. But the Senate recently did the opposite, agreeing to fund Title II at $2.1 billion, the same as the amount in fiscal year 2017.
The House and Senate must now agree on a final number for fiscal year 2018, which began October 1. Federal programs for the current fiscal year are being funded by a stopgap budgetary measure—known as a continuing resolution—until December 8.
“We are another step closer to seeing funding secured for Title II in ESSA, and we owe this success to the tremendous effort APS members put into this endeavor, which is crucial to training STEM teachers and preparing the next generation of students for the field,” said Francis Slakey, Director of APS Office of Public Affairs (OPA).
The effort to persuade Congress to fund ESSA began in May: in an op-ed published in the St. Louis Dispatch, APS member Karen King urged Sen. Roy Blunt of Missouri to support the bill. Blunt is chairman of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee of Labor, Health & Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies. In his role, he oversees messaging for all Senate Republicans; thus, his fellow lawmakers are likely to follow his lead.
King, an assistant professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Missouri, wrote in her op-ed: “President Donald Trump’s fiscal year 2018 budget cuts to STEM education would gut the nation’s ability to train high-quality science teachers, thereby limiting young Americans’ opportunities in STEM careers and putting the nation’s global competitiveness at risk.”
Blunt quickly responded to her piece, writing in a letter to the paper, “I have serious concerns with some of the cuts included in the president’s budget.”
Members of the APS Forum on Education amplified the message with an email campaign. Working with APS OPA, King arranged for a meeting with Blunt’s staff in Missouri to amplify crucial points in her op-ed. That meeting went well and was followed by a meeting with OPA staff and Blunt’s office in D.C. The effort then expanded to include several meetings on Capitol Hill featuring APS leaders, including Laura Greene, president; Roger Falcone, president-elect; and Eric Brewe, Education Policy Committee chairman.
“I made two visits to Capitol Hill with APS President Laura Greene and Greg Mack [APS government relations specialist] to advocate for both the House and Senate to include funding that can be used for professional development for teachers through programs like PhysTEC, Modeling Workshop Project, and UTeach,” said Brewe, a physics education researcher at Drexel University.
He added, “Legislative teams for all of the (congressional) members were receptive to the message of supporting teachers, and many were surprised to find a scientific professional society advocating for this position. From my perspective, it is important for APS members to also meet staffers in person. It felt like the legislative staff cared about the message beyond what you can achieve with a letter or phone call alone.”
Mack said the effort to boost funding for Title II in ESSA has been working out well. “This concerted undertaking involving the APS president, president-elect, and Education Policy Committee chair really shows the commitment the Society has for education,” he said. He continued, “Our efforts in the Senate have paid off, and our meetings with House offices are crucial as the senators and representatives negotiate what the final funding levels will be. I have to admit, hearing congressional staffers react positively to the APS leadership gives me hope that the House will do the right thing and agree with the Senate.”
APS remains concerned about ESSA funding for fiscal year 2019 as well, but hopes the Trump Administration will support STEM efforts. In fact, the President recently signed a memorandum aimed at making STEM education a bigger priority for the country. His directive calls for the Department of Education to annually fund $200 million in grants toward STEM education and training for students in kindergarten through 12th grade.
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Editor: David Voss
Contributing Correspondent: Alaina G. Levine
Publication Designer and Production: Nancy Bennett-Karasik