NSTA Legislative Update by Jodi Peterson

Appropriations Update

A lot is going on in both chambers of government; let’s start first in the U.S. House of Representatives:  lawmakers last week passed a stopgap spending measure (continuing resolution) that provides continuing appropriations at FY19 levels to federal agencies through November 21, 2019. (A government shutdown would occur on October 1, 2019, the start of FY2020, since none of the 12 regular appropriations bills that fund the federal government for FY2020 have been enacted).

The bill, H.R. 4378 (116), is now before the Senate, which is expected to pass it sometime before the Sept. 30 funding deadline.  This gives leaders in Congress and the White House until before Thanksgiving to come up with funding compromises on key issues, including funding for the border wall.

The extension in funding for FY20 was still necessary despite the bipartisan budget deal, H.R. 3877 (116) that passed in early August.  However, debates in the Senate over a host of issues this month delayed the normal process to pass the FY20 spending bills and necessitated the need for a continuing resolution.

As you will recall from a previous Legislative Update the first House-passed minibus, H.R. 2740 (116), which bundles the text of four of the 12 appropriations bills for FY2020, (Defense, Labor-HHS-Education, Energy-Water and State Foreign-Operations), passed the house on June 19.

In the Senate: Senate appropriators unveiled their education spending bill for FY2020 last week.  The Senate bill largely ignores the cuts the Trump Administration had proposed to education, but it funds many programs at levels lower than the House bill. The Senate bill would provide $71.4 billion in discretionary spending on education, less than the House’s proposed budget of $75.9 billion for the Education Department

In the Senate education bill lawmakers are proposing the Title IVA Student Support and Academic Enrichment Grants, which support science and STEM programs, receive a $50 million increase over last year. Title IIA, which funds teacher professional development, would be level funded.

Here is the summary of the proposed education funding in the Senate bill:

  • $15.9 billion for Title I Grants to Local Educational Agencies, the same as FY2019.
  • $2.1 billion for Title II Supporting Effective Instruction State grants, the same as FY2019
  • $1.2 billion for Title IV Student Support and Academic Enrichment Grants, a $50 million increase, which supports a wide range of activities including STEM education and school safety activities.
  • $12.4 billion for IDEA State Grants to support special education for students with disabilities, the same as FY2019.
  • $1.5 billion for Impact Aid, an increase of $25 million.
  • $1.2 billion, level with FY2019, for 21st Century Community Learning Centers to support academic enrichment activities for students before school, after school, and during the summer.
  • $460 million for the Charter Schools Program, an increase of $20 million. This includes $7.5 million specifically to expand charter schools in rural areas.
  • $105 million for Safe Schools National Activities, an increase of $10 million, which supports evidence-based activities to improve school safety, prevent violence, and improve school climates.
  • $60 million in dedicated STEM education funding within the Education Innovation and Research program, the same as FY2019.

Since Congressional leaders are also negotiating the continuing resolution passed in the House to continue funding for the government beyond September 30, it is still unclear when and if further action on this specific education spending legislation will occur.

House Appropriators Hear from NASA and NSF Administrators on STEM Education

Michael Kincaid, Associate Administrator for STEM Engagement, National Aeronautics and Space Administration and Karen Marrongelle, Assistant Director of the National Science Foundation for Education and Human Resources were the two witnesses last week before the House appropriations subcommittee hearing on STEM education in their respective agencies. Both administrators provided a great overview of the STEM education initiatives at NSF and NASA. The subcommittee’s spending bill for fiscal year 2020 proposes to boost the NSF education directorate by 4% to $950 million and the NASA office by 12% to $123 million.

From the NSF testimony: NSF programs collectively educate, train, and support discoverers; engage citizen scientists; and foster a well-informed, STEM-literate citizenry to ensure that the country has an exceptionally skilled and diverse STEM workforce that meets today’s needs and is prepared to meet the needs of the future.

From the NASA testimony: To execute our STEM engagement efforts, we leverage our community of talented and dedicated education professionals, and capitalize on our technical workforce, tremendously committed to inspiring and engaging youth and students in STEM. NASA has a portfolio of activities and opportunities dedicated to attracting, engaging and educating students and to support educators and educational institutions across the nation. These range from internships and fellowships, research and development (R&D) opportunities, challenges and competitions, pre-college and 2  college STEM experiences, virtual learning, educator and faculty support, as well as institutional support. In FY2018, over 820,000 students participated in NASA STEM Engagement activities, from Elementary students to Post-Doctoral scholars, and over 180,000 educators participated in NASA professional development activities.

National Science Board Releases Report on Skilled Technical Workforce

The National Science Board has released a report on the skilled technical workforce (STW) that calls attention to the jobs that involve substantial STEM skills but do not require four-year degrees. About 17 million people currently fall within the STW category, according to the report, and the United States is facing a potential shortfall of 3 million workers in the area by 2022. The report calls for dispelling negative perceptions of such roles and illuminating the pathways into this “underappreciated” segment of the U.S. workforce. Read the report here.

U.S. Supreme Court to Hear Arguments in School Choice Case in 2020

Arguments for a school choice case taken up by the Supreme Court earlier this summer won’t happen until 2020.

Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue, centers on whether a tax credit scholarship program in Montana violates a state constitutional provision prohibiting the legislature from appropriating public funds to aid religious schools.

The Montana program provides a tax credit to individuals and businesses who donate to private scholarship organizations, which can then use the donations to give scholarships to needy families who want to send their children to private schools.

The Montana Supreme Court struck down the program in December, ruling that the tax credit was allowing the Legislature to “indirectly pay public funds” to religious schools,

School choice supporters see the case as a potential vehicle to overturn so-called Blaine amendments, state constitutional provisions that prevent public funding from going to religious education.

And last but not least, congratulations to NSTA member Tammy Will, who was invited by Rep. Frank Lucas, ranking member of the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology, to participate in a private, members only panel on Rural STEM education earlier this summer. Check out the video she made for the Science Committee after her meeting with the lawmakers.

Stay tuned, and watch for more updates in future issues of NSTA Express.

Jodi Peterson is the Assistant Executive Director of Communication, Legislative & Public Affairs for the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) and Chair of the STEM Education Coalition. Reach her via e-mail at jpeterson@nsta.org or via Twitter at @stemedadvocate.

The mission of NSTA is to promote excellence and innovation in science teaching and learning for all.

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