in Science and Technology Policy
policymakers have a longstanding interest in science, technology, engineering,
and mathematics (STEM) education that dates to at least the 1st Congress.
In its contemporary construct, this interest largely focuses on the
connection between STEM education and the U.S. science and engineering
workforce, which, in turn, is often perceived as instrumental to national security
and the U.S. economy.
The National Science Foundation (NSF) is a key component of the federal STEM
education effort. Several inventories of the federal STEM education
portfolio have highlighted NSF’s important role—both in terms of funding
and in the number and breadth of programs. The NSF is also the only
federal agency whose primary mission includes supporting education across all fields
of science and engineering. As such, funding for STEM education at the NSF
impacts not only the agency, but also the entire federal STEM education
Congress reduced enacted funding levels (from the prior year) for NSF’s main
education account in both FY2011 and FY2012. Those year-over-year
reductions followed several years of varying funding, as well as changes
in the distribution of the Foundation budget that reduced funding for the
main education account as a percentage of the total NSF budget. For the most
part, these changes appear to result from a combination of holding the
main education account more-or-less constant while applying most of the
Foundation’s FY2003-FY2011 budget growth to the main research account.
However, in constant dollar terms, it appears at least some of the increase in funding
for research activities during the observed period may have come at the expense
of education activities.
It is not clear if these funding changes reflect evolving congressional and
Administration policy priorities and an intentional prioritization of
research over educational activities at the NSF or if they reflect the
cumulative impact of funding decisions made in response to specific conditions
in specific fiscal years that happen to have had this effect. Further, the
significance of these changes for NSF’s STEM education and research
missions—and for the overall federal STEM effort— depends, in part, on how
they fit within the broader policy context. In particular, it depends (among
other things) on how policymakers perceive and assess the policy rationale
behind STEM education funding at the NSF; the character of NSF’s STEM
education activities; the Foundation’s role in the federal STEM education
portfolio; and the impact of changes in NSF’s education account on the
Foundation’s other primary mission, research.
This report analyzes NSF funding trends and selected closely related STEM
education policy issues in order to place conversations about FY2013
funding in broader fiscal and policy context. It concludes with an
analysis of potential policy options.
Document available via e-mail as a pdf file or in paper form.
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