Science and Math in the Stimulus

By Sean Cavanagh — February 20, 2009 2 min read
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While the stimulus provides a major cash infusion to the nation’s schools, the flow of federal money to school and college “STEM” education efforts, in particular, is smaller and more difficult to track.

As my colleagues at Ed Week have detailed in past stories, the package provides about $95 billion, total, for the U.S. Department of Education. Most science and math education programs at the federal level today are overseen by the department and the National Science Foundation, but they are also scattered across other agencies.

As far as the Obama stimulus plan goes, probably the largest STEM education-specific pool of funding in the stimulus is $100 million for the National Science Foundation’s math and science teacher-training and recruitment ventures. Those funds provide $60 million for Noyce scholarships, a long-standing effort that offers aid to college students and working professionals; $25 million for math and science partnerships, which support links between K-12 schools and universities; and $15 million to support master’s degree programs for teachers.

Other examples of targeted STEM-education funding are few and far between, however.

Part of the reason is that the nearly $100 billion going to the Department of Education leaves many funding decisions to the states, so it’s not clear how much will be spent on STEM education. As some people have pointed out to me, it seems very likely that some of the money from various pools of cash going to the department, such as the $5 billion in discretionary state funds and the $650 million for school technology, will eventually go to STEM.

STEM “was treated very well treated in the stimulus,” James Brown, the co-chair of the STEM-ed coalition, an advocacy group, told me. State education officials, when given the choice, are almost certain to direct stimulus funds toward math and science teacher and classroom programs, Brown predicted. “In general, it’s a big victory,” he said.

There’s been no shortage of interest in STEM issues on Capitol Hill in recent years. In 2007, Congress approved the America COMPETES Act, which authorized billions in new spending on math and science, much of it focused on supporting cutting-edge research and innovation, and created many new federal programs. (It called for about $840 million to be spent on K-12 and college STEM education, I was told last year.)

Yet Congress has yet to actually fund most of those efforts, to the frustration of the COMPETES Act supporters. The stimulus doesn’t appear to make up much of the slack, as far as STEM education goes (though STEM research fares much better). For instance, you don’t see funding for the Math Now program, which was included in the COMPETES legislation, in the stimulus. Math Now, which was backed by the Bush administration, is supposed to support “research-based” math programs in schools.

It’s possible that STEM education funding could roll out through other channels in the stimulus. After all, 11 total agencies across the federal government, including NASA and the Department of Energy, support a total of about 105 different STEM education programs, worth $3 billion, according to one recent estimate. So researchers, teachers-in-training, and school districts have a lot of math and science resources they can tap.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Curriculum Matters blog.