On 16 June, the House passed the appropriations bill for science, and the Departments of State, Justice, and Commerce (H.R. 2862)  , which gives NSF's Education and Human Resources (EHR) department a $807 million budget for the 2006 fiscal year (FY) to recruit and train students for the science workforce. This is a reduction of 4.1% from FY 2005 and far below the FY 2004 budget of $944.0 million. Overall, the effect on current scientists and trainees is likely to be small, since the cuts are aimed mainly at the undergraduate level and below. But the budget cuts could keep some young people--including young minorities--from entering science.
Less Money for School Science
Three programs designed to help elementary and secondary science education--the Mathematics and Science Partnerships; Research, Evaluation and Communication; and Elementary, Secondary, and Informal Education programs--were hit hardest by the budget cuts. The budget for Mathematics and Science Partnerships was reduced by 24.4%, while Research, Evaluation and Communication lost 16% and Elementary, Secondary, and Informal Education lost 3.9% compared to FY 2005.
According to some educational experts, the science education achievement gap that exists between students of color and majority students begins in elementary school. Despite these concerns, Donald Thompson, EHR's acting assistant director, remains optimistic. He noted the National Science Foundation's (NSF) primary role in K-12 education is to develop programs. Furthermore, he said, the cuts to K-12 minority programs would be minimal; therefore these cuts shouldn't affect individual students.
Little Change for College Students
Cuts were not limited to pre-college science. The Undergraduate Education program's funding fell by 2.4%, from $153.7 million to $150 million. According to Thompson, the budget for minority access programs remains flat--any cuts to these programs were minimal--and that NSF's mission to draw more underrepresented minorities into science would not be significantly effected.
Graduate and post-graduate career development programs were largely spared, some even receiving nominal increases. The budget for the Graduate Education Program rose 0.2% while the Human Resource Development Program rose 1.3%--both increases below the rate of inflation. The Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR)--which broadens the geographic distribution of federal academic research and development funding--got the biggest gain, up 3.5%, from $93.7 to $97.0 million.
New Bill Proposed
In separate legislation, the House Appropriations Committee proposed its Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education Appropriations spending bill (H.R. 3010), which recommends that the National Science Board--NSF's governing body--endorse a commission to achieve "measurable improvements" in science education "at all levels." Yet H.R. 3010 recommends increasing budgets for the Department of Education's Mathematics and Science Partnerships program by 6.4%, to $190 million, which is far below the president's request of $269 million.
The Administration proposal also seeks to move the Mathematics and Science Partnerships program completely within the Department of Education, eliminating NSF's role and replacing NSF's merit-based, peer-review grants with Department of Education block-grants, which provides funds to states based on youth-population and poverty rates. Both the NSF and the Department of Education versions of the program partner college science professors and science agencies with underperforming elementary and secondary schools.
EHR assistant director Thompson supports the move, noting that NSF "doesn't have the kind of impact" on education that the state does. He was also quick to point out that NSF's role in improving education is through research and development and noted they "don't have the kind of impact that the state does." Thompson says the agency is working "enthusiastically" with the Department of Education to improve the Mathematics and Science Partnerships program.
While the overall NSF EHR budget took another round of cuts, Thompson believes individual programs aimed at diversifying the scientific workforce will continue to meet the agency's objective to keep youth "engaged" in science.
Clinton Parks is a staff writer at MiSciNet and may be reached at email@example.com .