Over the next few weeks leading up to SWE’s Congressional Outreach Day, a significant amount of time will be spent by elected officials navigating the Administration’s FY 2019 budget request. Even though the FY18 federal budget will not be finalized until March 23, 2018 (a week after SWE comes to DC on March 14 and 15) planning for the horizon and next year’s budget is already in full swing. Earlier in February, the federal government raised the spending caps for both defense and non-defense spending starting in FY18. For you budget hawks, that means Congress is no longer constrained by sequestration and can allocate more money to STEM priorities (and others) if they so choose.
This budget spending cap deal, agreed to on February 9, averted a government shutdown and concluded the fourth short term spending deal since the end of the fiscal year last October! The deal also set budget limits for two years, raised the debt limit, and included funding for a disaster aid package and domestic health extenders programs like the home visiting program. More specifically, The Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018 busts the spending caps and increases the non-defense discretionary (NDD) budget by $63 billion this year (FY2018) and by $68 billion in FY 2019. On the defense side of the ledger, the budget cap for FY2018 is increased by $80 billion and by $85 billion in FY2019. After a long night of negotiations and a short procedural wrinkle regarding concerns about increasing the federal deficit, (estimated to increase by $320 billion) the President signed the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018 into law while most of DC was still stuck in traffic. Congress now has until March 23rd to finalize spending allocations known as “302(b)s” and complete an omnibus spending bill to close out FY 2018 – 6 months late.
FY 2019 Budget Request Impacts on STEM and Education Funding
Three days following this unprecedented deal, the White House submitted their FY 2019 budget proposal to Congress, although they had to make a number of revisions after seeing the deal Congress had made regarding lifting the budget caps. Highlights of the plan with regard to STEM and education funding include:
- A 5% reduction in funding for the Department of Education (ED). The request asks for $63.2 billion in discretionary aid for the agency, which is a $3.6 billion cut from current spending levels.
- The White House has once again proposed that no funding go to Title II of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA)¸ which sends about $2 billion to states to support investments in educator and teacher professional development.
- The 21st Century Community Learning Center program, which supports afterschool programs in every state with just over $1 billion, would also receive no funds in the plan. Unlike last year, the FY 2019 plan proposes investing in career and technical education programs at current levels of $1.1 billion.
- The plan also outlines a strategy for reaching the annual goal of investing at least $200 million annually in STEM and computer science education that was established by a September 2017 Presidential Memorandum directing the increase in funding for the Education Innovation and Research program to $180 million and creating a new $20 million career and technical education program.
Funding for the National Science Foundation
The White House also amended some of their cuts to science research, restoring funding for the National Science Foundation. The administration initially proposed cutting the research agency’s budget by $2.2 billion, before making an addendum to their budget request reflecting the budget caps agreement that was reached by Congress. Unfortunately, the Office of Education at NASA is still slated for elimination.
It should be noted that while the budget request for ED and other agencies sends Capitol Hill and stakeholders a message about the White House’s priorities, Congress generally takes these concepts as suggestions. They still hold the power of the purse, as they have reminded all 45 presidents every year as they pass spending bills.
Finally, while the budget and appropriations cycle has dominated the news some STEM legislation has been advanced by Congress. The House of Representatives voted to unanimously pass H.R. 3397 Building Blocks of STEM Act. The bill, sponsored by Representative Jacky Rosen (D-NV), instructs the National Science Foundation, when awarding grants under the Discovery Research PreK-12 program, to consider age distribution in order to more equitably allocate funding for research studies with a focus on early childhood. H.R. 3397 includes Research and Technology Subcommittee Chairwoman Barbara Comstock’s (R-VA) provisions that award grants to encourage young girls’ participation in computer science and update the NSF Noyce Teacher Scholarship program to include informatics. Next, this legislation needs to be considered by the Senate before it can be signed into law.