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Obama administration requests 2014 STEM overhaul

budget1A proposed reshuffling of federal STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) education programs in the United States would move the Department of Education (ED) and the National Science Foundation (NSF) to the head of the class. Their new status would be a major change for the federal government, which now spends nearly $3 billion on 226 STEM education programs run by a dozen agencies.

Many of those programs were created to address a specific problem or at the behest of Congress to serve a specific constituency. However, the resulting fragmentation has hampered efforts to coordinate and assess the impact of the government’s investment. The proposed realignment, part of the president’s 2014 budget request to Congress, would slice the overall number of programs in half by slashing the education activities of mission agencies such as NASA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and the National Institutes of Health.

The reorganization unveiled last week surprised science educators, legislators, and even other federal officials. While the upcoming debate in Congress is likely to focus on whether some of the programs targeted for elimination should be preserved, the broader issue is the wisdom of creating two executive branch heavyweights in STEM education. Under the proposal, ED would oversee federally funded activities to improve elementary and secondary school science education, while NSF would lead the way in undergraduate and graduate STEM education. (The Smithsonian Institution was given the green light, and $25 million, to expand its activities in informal, or nonclassroom, science education.) The realignment is designed to tap into ED’s extensive ties to, and experience working with, local schools as well as NSF’s expertise in funding high-quality STEM education activities.

Click here to read more from this April 18, 2013 Science article by Jeffrey Mervis.

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