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The White House budget request, STEM education, research, and afterschool

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The White House budget request, STEM education, research, and afterschool

President Joe Biden has unveiled his FY 2024 budget request. The news is mixed for both afterschool and STEM education. The plan seeks increases across most science agencies and the Department of Education, and retains prior requests’ emphasis on research related to emerging technologies and climate change. It also prioritizes major initiatives such as the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) Directorate for Technology, Innovation, and Partnerships (TIP) and the Advanced Research Projects Agency for Health (ARPA–H). And in a new move, it would significantly expand funding for fusion energy technology development.

The budget request falls short of the goals set out in last year’s CHIPS and Science Act. It misses the funding target the act set for NSF by $4.3 billion and for the Department of Energy Office of Science by almost $750 million. The budget also asks Congress to fund the regional technology hub program the act authorized in the Commerce Department through a special $4 billion multiyear appropriation, well below the act’s $10 billion target.

At the Department of Education, the White House hopes to build on its successful efforts to grow Title I funding, which support STEM programming nationwide. Overall, the FY 2024 budget requests $90 billion in discretionary funding for the Department of Education, a $10.8 billion or 13.6 percent increase from the fiscal year 2023 enacted level. The request proposes $20.5 billion for Title I “to close opportunity and achievement gaps in our nation’s schools and help schools sustain programs that support students' academic recovery from the impacts of the pandemic.” The proposal represents a $2.2 billion increase above FY 2023. As for other programs important to the STEM and afterschool communities, the plan would invest $1.405 billion for the Student Support and Academic Enrichment Grant program—the Every Student Succeeds Act’s main STEM education program. That amount represents an increase of $25 million over FY 2023. As for the Nita M. Lowey 21st Century Community Learning Centers program, the White House has requested the same amount as the program received in FY 2023--$1.329 billion. Advocates including the Afterschool Alliance are asking for a $750 million increase for the afterschool program, arguing that unmet need persists and that inflation, and growing transportation and staffing costs require more federal funds. (Learn more from the Department of Education on its request.)

The budget provides $1.4 billion for the STEM Education Directorate at NSF to accelerate STEM education and workforce development, and to help ensure the U.S. science and technology workforce reflects the nation as a whole. The Division of Research on Learning in Formal & Informal Settings (DRL) would see a $30 million increase in FY 2024 in the request, spread over the division’s programs, including Advancing Informal STEM Learning (AISL). In addition, the budget includes $420 million at NSF to increase: the participation of historically underrepresented communities and women and girls in science and engineering fields; support for curriculum design; research on successful recruitment and retention methods; development of outreach or mentorship programs; fellowships; and science and engineering research and education capacity at Historically Black Colleges and Universities, Tribally Controlled Colleges and Universities, and Minority-Serving Institutions. The budget also includes $350 million at the Department of Education to expand research and development infrastructure at these institutions. (Learn more from NSF on its request.)

Of course, there are STEM education programs and investments across the federal government, and the community has at least one interest in every spending bill debated by Congress. In coming weeks, agency leadership will be invited to Capitol Hill to defend President Biden’s request. This year’s process is complicated by partisan politics, a desire from House Republicans to limit spending to FY 2022 levels and attempts to link the country’s debt limit to the appropriations process. It will likely stretch at least into the fall, if not beyond.

For a broader perspective on the implications of the budget request for afterschool, read Erik Peterson's recent blog, "FY 2024 budget proposal is disappointing for 21st CCLC, but includes other afterschool related increases."

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