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STEM Updates from Capitol Hill

The proverbial yet very real April showers took their sweet time to come, but hopefully the returns for STEM advocates in May will be more than just some pretty flowers.
SWE Leadership Summit Update

The proverbial yet very real April showers took their sweet time to come, but hopefully the returns for STEM advocates in May will be more than just some pretty flowers. April in DC saw the budget process continue somewhat functionally, with the Senate Appropriations Committee approving the Commerce Justice Science bill that funds the National Science Foundation at a level similar to last year. The bill totaled $56.3B in funding, with $563M more than overall FY 2016 spending, and provided $7.5B for the National Science Foundation. That level funding amount includes $18M for the Increasing the Participation and Advancement of Women in Academic Science and Engineering Careers (ADVANCE) program. It’s unclear when that bill will be on the floor of the Senate, but progress is progress.

Hopefully the CJS bill and overall education investments are fodder for meetings with Members of Congress SWE members schedule in coming months when Congress spends a lot of time at home. If you’re not sure how to set up those meetings and what SWE’s policy priorities are, check out the webinar from April 25th on local advocacy and public policy training. This follow up to the training provided to participants at SWE’s “Diversity and Inclusion Drives Innovation in STEM” Capitol Hill event in March, walked members through critical advocacy 101 tips such as understanding SWE’s policy positions, identifying key policy staff, and providing tips for how to setup an effective meeting with a Member of Congress in your state or district.

Also ICYMI, SWE President Colleen Layman attended the annual White House Science Fair last month. She started her day off meeting with an astronaut. This was the final White House Science Fair hosted by President Obama boasted celebrities, exhibitors, scientists, and over 130 elementary and secondary students from across the nation. Girls and their projects were highlighted as well! President Obama addressed the group in the afternoon to call on this generation of students to “tackle the grand challenges of our time.” (There will be more young women and future engineers at the White House Maker Faire next month!)

While the White House Science Fair was all glitz and glamor, one of the wonkiest DC exercises was completed last month when negotiated rule making for the Every Student Succeeds Act was completed. Over the course of three separate days-long sessions, stakeholders agreed to terms for new regulations regarding assessment in K-12 schools. For the STEM community, perhaps the biggest issue discussed was one around the ability of 8th grade students enrolled in advanced math courses to take assessments for that course versus their state’s broader 8th grade math assessment. The discussion touched on many issues, including attempts from some to require that all districts that take advantage of this option be required to ensure that all students have equal access to advanced coursework. In the end, it was agreed that states should develop plans to eventually offer those advance courses early to all students. (SWE and the STEM Education Coalition will keep tabs on this issue.) Also related to K-12 education, both the Software & Information Industry Association and the Computer Science Education Coalition sent letters to Congress requesting funding for a well-rounded education block grant that includes STEM and for increased computer science funding, respectively. SWE has supported both requests as the hope is to lift all boats to ensure robust funding for science, technology, engineering, and math education across the board. Hopefully the regular budget process continues to march on quickly as it is becoming clearer that the Presidential election will swing into high gear sooner rather than later. Mid-July is a deadline for action. That’s when the parties host their respective conventions. Congress will leave town for those convenings and stay gone through Labor Day. That doesn’t leave much time for deliberative debate and compromise on substantive policy.

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