Capitol Report: December 2017

  • By Della B. Cronin

    Last month, NCTM and many others in the education community spent time reading and reacting to Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos’s proposed priorities for competitive grant programs at the Department of Education.  Not surprisingly, school choice headlines the priorities as its first, but the Secretary proposes 11 total priorities.  STEM education and computer science are featured in priority number 6, which echoes the goals of the Presidential Memorandum President Donald Trump sent to the Secretary in September. There was one priority dedicated to attracting and retaining high-quality educators as well.  Over 1,000 comments were submitted, including by NCTM , and now the Department will review those comments.  In the spring, they will use that input to finalize the priorities, and then the 11 priorities will be options for inclusion in competitive grant awards for FY 2018 and subsequent fiscal years. 

    On Capitol Hill, NCTM, the STEM education, research, K-12 education and higher education communities are still waiting for Congress to decide about FY 2018 spending.  The tax reform debate is center stage right now, but there are (tenuous) rumors that budget deals are being made. Some would like to see the budget for the fiscal year that started October 1 resolved by the end of the year, but that seems unlikely. There could then be a temporary continuing resolution passed to get the federal government through the December 8 expiration of the current one and into the New Year for the details of a deal to be finalized.  The latest deal seems to be one that covers two years and would include higher spending caps for both defense and domestic programs. Of course, there are so many issues and surprises that could slow or change this course of action that few are willing to place any bets. Regardless, NCTM and others in the education community continue to meet with lawmakers to press for sufficient investments in research agencies and Department of Education programs like professional development for classroom teachers and the new, flexible Title IV-A grant program (Student Support and Academic Enrichment Grants) that supports STEM and other activities.

    And, while the Capitol Hill update around career and technical education has a definitive “Groundhog Day” feel to it, a recent missive from 59 senators to leaders of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee suggests that folks on the Hill are getting as frustrated as those off it regarding the lack of action in that chamber on an issue that has broad bipartisan support and programs that are important to STEM education efforts nationwide.  A similar letter is expected from House lawmakers and those pleas combined with recent collaboration between Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) on healthcare leaves some hope for movement in 2018. 

    There was a bright spot of bipartisanship recently. The House Science, Space and Technology Committee recently debated and approved several STEM education bills.  The noncontroversial proposals would promote research at the Department of Energy by supporting upgrades to facilities and equipment across the country and provide increased opportunities in STEM education for women and veterans through various programs across federal agencies. All of the bills passed by the Committee will likely be approved by the full House of Representatives via the suspension calendar in the next few weeks. Senate action could follow in 2018. (Learn more about the bills and the day’s debate here .

    As the year-end holidays grow nearer, Congress will only focus on items that they consider “must-dos.”  That will include tax reform and budgeting, and not much else.