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Final FY21 Appropriations: STEM Education

FEB 26, 2021
Congress made mostly incremental changes to the budgets of federal STEM education programs for fiscal year 2021, rejecting Trump administration proposals for cuts and restructuring.
Mitch Ambrose headshot
Director of FYI

An LED board used in a STEM outreach program by Oak Ridge National Lab.  (Image credit – Yvonne Dalschen / ORNL)

An LED board used in a STEM outreach program by Oak Ridge National Lab.

(Image credit – Yvonne Dalschen / ORNL)

In its appropriations for fiscal year 2021, Congress has largely preserved the status quo for STEM education and outreach programs across federal agencies, with most programs receiving steady funding or moderate increases. As in past years, it rejected Trump administration requests to shutter education offices at NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and declined to fund its proposals for new STEM initiatives at the Department of Education.

Summary tables of outcomes for STEM education programs are available in FYI’s Federal Science Budget Tracker , and highlights for selected agencies are summarized below.

Department of Education

The Department of Education has few programs specifically dedicated to STEM education and instead funds such activities through a variety of discretionary and formula-based grant programs. For fiscal year 2020, the department reported spending $578 million on STEM education through its discretionary grant programs.

Among the major formula grants that can be used to support STEM activities, Congress provided essentially level funding for Student Support and Academic Enrichment Grants, Supporting Effective Instruction State Grants, and 21st Century Community Learning Centers.

Among its discretionary grant programs, the department had sought to expand the Minority Science and Engineering Improvement Program from about $13 million to $150 million to support Minority-Serving Institutions located in Opportunity Zones , which are distressed regions granted favorable tax treatment under the 2017 tax reform law. It also proposed to increase support for grants focused on improving the quality of career and technical education, with an emphasis on STEM fields. Congress did not accept either proposal, instead providing only an $800,000 increase to the Minority Science and Engineering Improvement Program and level funding for the CTE grants.

Congress did allocate $67 million for grants aimed at improving STEM instruction generally through the Education Innovation and Research program, a $2 million increase. Congress directs that these funds should be used to “expand opportunities for underrepresented students such as minorities, girls, and youth from families living at or below the poverty line to help reduce the enrollment and achievement gap.” It also instructs the department to prioritize projects related to computer science education.

National Science Foundation

NSF funds most of its STEM education programs through its Education and Human Resources Directorate, which supports pedagogy research, fellowships, and capacity-building activities. The directorate’s budget is increasing from $940 million to $968 million, tracking with the overall increase appropriated for NSF’s other directorates.

Congress specifically allocates $5 million of the increase to the CyberCorps Scholarship for Service, $2 million to the Louis Stokes Alliances for Minority Participation program, and $1.5 million each to the HBCU Undergraduate, Tribal Colleges and Universities, and Hispanic-Serving Institutions programs. Congress also directs NSF to report on its plans to address the “severe underrepresentation” of Hispanic people among STEM doctoral graduates and “urges” the agency to increase grant opportunities for institutions that predominantly serve Asian American and Native American Pacific Islander groups, noting that NSF does not have dedicated programs for them.

No other programs in the directorate are specifically allocated an increase, but Congress does explicitly provide level funding for various activities the administration had proposed to pare back, such as the Graduate Research Fellowship Program and Robert Noyce Teacher Scholarships.

NASA

The budget for NASA’s Office of STEM Engagement is increasing $7 million to $127 million. Of the increase, $3 million is for the Space Grant program, $2 million is for the Minority University Research and Education Project, and $2 million is for NASA’s Established Program to Stimulate Competitive Research. Of the $51 million allocated in total to the Space Grant Program, Congress directs that NASA allocate at least $760,000 to each of the 52 participating jurisdictions. Congress also encourages NASA to use its Minority University Research and Education Project to support programs that “connect science, indigenous culture, and community.”

Outside the Office of STEM Engagement, NASA also supports various STEM education and outreach efforts through its Science Mission Directorate. Congress instructs NASA to provide at least level funding of $45.6 million for these efforts, which span across the agency’s science programs but are funded through the Science Activation account housed within the Astrophysics Division’s budget.

Department of Energy

DOE’s primary STEM education account, Workforce Development for Teachers and Scientists, is increasing $1 million to $29 million. Within that amount, the budgets for the Science Undergraduate Laboratory Internship Program and the Graduate Student Research Program are growing marginally to $14 million and $5 million, respectively, while the budget for STEM outreach activities is nearly doubling to $1.5 million. DOE’s national laboratories also support various STEM outreach efforts, but they do not have specifically appropriated budgets.

Department of Defense

Following a period of growth, the National Defense Education Program budget is decreasing from $144 million to $137 million, owing primarily to the cessation of congressionally directed support for the Manufacturing Engineering Education Program. While DOD requested $100 million for NDEP, Congress added $35 million for assorted STEM education and outreach activities and $2 million for civics education. Most of the program’s budget is for the SMART (Science, Mathematics, And Research for Transformation) scholarship-for-service program, for which DOD requested an increase from $71 million to $77 million, continuing a recent growth trend.

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

The budget of NOAA’s Office of Education is increasing $3 million to $33 million, with all of the additional funding directed to the José E. Serrano Educational Partnership Program with Minority-Serving Institutions. Within NOAA’s Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research, the budget for the Sea Grant College Program is increasing $1 million to $75 million.

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