This September, President Trump issued an executive memorandum to Education Secretary Betsy DeVos instructing her to dedicate $200 million per year of existing competitive grant funds to support high-quality classroom instruction projects in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM), and computer science fields. Moreover, these grants are to target projects that specifically engage women and minority student populations in STEM learning. The memo did not to specify out of which existing Department of Education funding buckets that this money should come from, instead leaving that to the discretion of the department. Since this $200 million in funding is to come from funds that can already be used for that purpose by the department, these grant programs will not require congressional approval nor will new funding appropriations be necessary.
Looking at the current Department of Education grant funding landscape, there are a couple grant programs which could be utilized for this new initiative. The Minority Science and Engineering Improvement Program (MSEIP), housed under the Office of Postsecondary Education, for example, provides grants to predominantly minority-serving institutions of higher education for the purpose of effecting long-range improvement in science and engineering programs, and increasing the flow of underrepresented ethnic minorities (particularly minority women) into science and engineering careers. This program typically grants between $8,970,000 and $9,650,000 in total funding each year for new or continuing awards.
At the k-12 level, however, funding may be directed through use of an absolute or competitive priority in a more generally focused grant, such as the Education and Innovation Research (EIR) program. Housed under the Office of Innovation and Improvement, this program provides funding to create, develop, implement, replicate, or take to scale entrepreneurial, evidence-based, field-initiated innovations to improve student achievement and attainment for high-need students; and rigorously evaluate such innovations. The EIR grant program is designed to generate and validate solutions to persistent educational challenges and to support the expansion of effective solutions to serve substantially larger numbers of students. Given that this program – and its predecessor, Investing in Innovation (i3) – is constantly updating what is considered a “persistent educational challenge”, we may see the 2018 solicitation feature a new priority targeting underrepresented student engagement in STEM and computing education. Last year, approximately $95,000,000 was appropriated to fund competitive grants through EIR.
For now, we’ll have to wait for more details from the department to know for sure which grant programs will receive a boost in STEM priorities. We’ll also have a better idea of potential targets once the FY18 budget is approved by Congress. The memo put forward by Trump is in contradiction with the messaging derived from his FY18 budget. Trump’s proposed budget featured extensive cuts to Department of Education funded programs as well as eliminating NASA’s education office. Fortunately, the Congressional Appropriations Committees have not been eager to make these cuts and it seems that Trump may have also changed his mind.
For more information or to read the memo in full, visit: https://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2017/09/25/memorandum-secretary-education