Curious what is happening on Capitol Hill? Well, there's a lot going on! Legislation in DC is keeping STEM Advocates on their toes. The 535 members of the 114th Congress returned from their longer-than-usual August recess earlier this month. September doesn't have a lot of legislative calendar days for Congress due to the later-than-normal Labor Day holiday, a visit to Washington, DC from Pope Francis and the Jewish holidays. Despite the challenging calendar, there are a few "big ticket" items that SWE is keeping an eye on that will keep the organization and its like-minded advocacy organizations busy between now and the end of the year.
First up? The annual federal budget process. A small coalition of House and Senate Republicans is trying to stop or slow down the budget process by focusing on non-related issues. Regardless, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has publicly stated that he wants a "clean" funding bill-one that only addresses spending-and wishes to avoid a government shutdown before the end of the current fiscal year, which comes September 30. Adding to his challenge? The President, Democrats and even some Republicans would like to see an end to "sequestration"-a very "DC" term that refers to caps on spending required by law, and restoration of funding for vital programs such as education and research.
In K-12 education news, both the House and Senate passed their own versions of bills that would revise the No Child Left Behind law this summer. Now, the bills must be merged together in what is called a "conference" before the President can sign it-or, more accurately, decide whether to sign it. House Education and the Workforce Committee Chairman John Kline (R-MN) has indicated that the conference process may not formally start until mid-October, but he is hopeful to have a bill before the year's end. SWE signed a joint letter with 80 other organizations urging House and Senate education leaders to retain important STEM-specific provisions in the final bill, such as requiring high standards for science and mathematics and ensuring state and local funds are used for STEM educator professional development.
Did you see this news over the Labor Day weekend? President Obama signed an executive order requiring federal contractors to provide paid sick-leave benefits to employees and called on Congress to follow with a nationwide paid sick-leave law. The announcement-important to SWE, given the organization's commitment to work and life integration for women in STEM-comes on the heels of other executive orders requiring federal contractors to expand overtime pay, increase minimum wages and ban discrimination based on sexual orientation. In a response to the President's call to action, more than 150 professors from 88 schools sent a letter to members of Congress urging them to pass the Family and Medical Insurance Leave Act, introduced by Representative Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) and Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) that would establish a national paid family and medical leave insurance program.
On a lighter note, earlier this month former astronaut Mae C. Jemison gave opening remarks at The Washington Post's Balancing the Equation live event. She, along with other guests, including Chancellor of DC Public Schools Kaya Henderson and STEM education supporter, Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), stressed the importance of closing the STEM education gap for women and minorities. In league with this theme, the White House Council on Women and Girls recently announced that Arizona State University will lead the National STEM Collaborative, a consortium of 19 university and nonprofit partners committed to building out best practices and toolkits to support minority girls and women working in STEM fields. See? That might have been more than you were expecting from DC.