President Obama has always been very vocal in his support of STEM education and increasing the number of students who pursue STEM education at all levels. The FY2013 budget request released by the White House today is a reflection of the president’s strong commitment to improving STEM education—$3 billion in total STEM education investments. A summary of the STEM education investment can be seen here, developed by the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP).
However, there is cause for concern in this budget for those of us who believe strongly in the importance of out-of-school-time settings for STEM education. Despite mounting research on the importance of such settings for STEM learning, STEM identity development and persistence in the STEM pipeline, there continues to be little attention paid to this issue in policy initiatives and budget requests from the Administration.
In fact, in this latest request, the president is proposing a 22 percent ($14 million) cut to the National Science Foundation’s Informal Science Education program, to be renamed “Advancing Informal STEM Learning.” This program will consequently support fewer awards. Some of this reduction ($5 million) is being applied towards a new program "Core Launch," which will include an emphasis on learning outside school. NASA’s Office of Education would also see a 26 percent ($36 million) cut in its budget if Obama’s budget is approved. A new “STEM Education and Accountability” program would consolidate the “K-12 STEM Education,” “Informal STEM Education” and “Higher Education” funding streams currently available. The $37 million proposed for this new program includes the “Summer of Innovation” initiative, which many in the afterschool community actively support. So despite increases in the budget for STEM education overall, there are cuts to informal science education in both these agencies that have traditionally been strong supporters of learning in out-of-school-time spaces.
While it is disappointing that partners in the afterschool and science-center communities are not recognized explicitly as such, the good news is that 21st Century Community Learning Centers (21st CCLC)—the largest funding source exclusively for before-school, afterschool and summer programs—has been level funded. 21st CCLC is also placing an increased emphasis on STEM learning and developing supports to enable this to happen. NASA also explicitly calls out the informal education community and its educators as an integral part of its “Formal and Informal Education” strategy.
Both of these developments indicate that afterschool is poised to provide some great opportunities to support the formal education community as they are challenged to meet some ambitious goals. For example, the push to increase the number of STEM teachers presents an opportunity for afterschool programs to serve as venues for field experience for student teachers as they earn their STEM/teaching degrees. We also know that students will not simply choose to suddenly get engaged in STEM learning without the proper nurturing, mentoring and hands-on experiences that afterschool provides to show them why STEM fields matter to their communities and societies.
Stay tuned as we learn more details about this budget request and how it will play out in the coming weeks and months.