President Donald Trump is calling on the U.S. Department of Education to put a new focus on STEM education, especially computer science education—even as his budget seeks to scrap federal grants that schools can use for those programs.
“This administration is committed to building the workforce of tomorrow,” Ivanka Trump, the president’s daughter and adviser, told reporters Monday, according to a White House pool report.
The White House wants U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos and her team to steer more competitive-grant money from programs like the Education Innovation and Research fund toward recipients that have a STEM focus. And the administration wants DeVos to set a goal of directing at $200 million a year in grant funds to STEM and computer science.
Ironically, though, the Trump administration’s proposed budget for fiscal 2018 eliminates one of the main federal programs in the department that districts can use for computer science: The Student Support and Academic Enrichment Grants, which can be used for health, safety, arts, technology programs and more, and are supposed to get more than $1.5 billion under the Every Student Succeeds Act.
Congress didn’t take the administration up on its suggestion to scrap the program, but lawmakers aren’t seeking to fund it at nearly the level ESSA recommended. The House of Representatives wants $500 million for the program, and a Senate bill would include $450 million.
The Obama administration pitched a new $4 billion computer science program last year, but Congress never provided the funding for it.
“Our understanding is that they want to reach across multiple grant programs” at the Education Department, said Cameron Wilson, the chief operating officer at code.org, which advised both the Obama and Trump administrations on their computer science proposals. He’s not anticipating, though, that there would be new money for the initiative.
Wilson noted the Obama administration’s proposed investment in computer science and said he’s glad that both Republicans and Democrats are focused on this issue. It’s “just right for the future of students in the United States,” he said. Wilson would love to see Congress and the White House provide money for Title IV as well as Title II, a teacher-quality program the administration wants to eliminate.
Ruthe Farmer, the chief evangelist at the CSforAll Consortium, is also glad to have the White House shine a spotlight on computer science. But she has some big questions about what the initiative will look like going forward. She’s wondering, for instance, how much of the focus will be on computer science specifically, as opposed to other STEM subjects that are already getting attention in schools.
“Obviously, the president can signal that something is a priority and it’s super valuable and awesome,” she said. But she wants to know: “Is this added money additional funding? ... At what level does it prioritize computer science?”
More details may be available down the line.
“We look forward to working with the White House and Congress on identifying grant funds to use for this important initiative,” said Liz Hill, a spokeswoman for the education department.
Photo: Ivanka Trump, second from right, speaks with Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and Rep. Virginia Foxx, R-N.C., right, before President Donald Trump signs a memorandum in the Oval Office of the White House on Sept. 25 to expand access to STEM education. (Alex Brandon/AP)
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