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Interested in the Future of Science Education at NASA?

Wednesday, December 3, 2014 - 09:20

NASA's Science Mission Directorate (SMD) has issued a draft of a Cooperative Agreement Notice (CAN) for its future science-education activities and requests comments submitted to by 8 December 2014 (date according to NASA officials at the National Academies' Sharing the Adventure Workshop). 

The current (tentative) schedule calls for release of the final notice in January 2015, followed by a virtual pre-proposal conference where organizations can learn more about the proposal and review process. SMD plans to make an award(s) by the end of FY 2015 (1 October 2015) with "approximately $15M-$42M...available per award year to support awards of multiple Cooperative Agreements, although a single award addressing all requirements is not precluded."

The numbers quoted in the draft reflect the still uncertain allocation for SMD education activities in FY 2015 and beyond. The President's Budget Request for this fiscal year requested $15 million for education activities across SMD, but with the money bookkept in the Astrophysics Division. In its appropriations bill covering NASA this year (H.R. 4660), the House of Representatives proposed to increase that to $30 million. In its companion legislation, which only made it through the Appropriations Committee rather than the full chamber, the Senate proposed to increase the total to $42 million — equal to the amount allocated across various mission-based education and public outreach (EPO) programs in FY 2014. The total funding eventually available for SMD education activities in FY 2015 awaits final action on appropriations for this year; the timing for this is still uncertain, as the Congress debates whether to do an omnibus — a sweeping bill that funds all of the discretionary programs at once — or some form of continuing resolution, which sets spending on autopilot from last year's levels. 

It's important to note that the current draft schedule calls for the initial award of a cooperative agreement for SMD education at the end of FY 2015, meaning the eventual cooperative agreement would begin with FY 2016 dollars. We are at least a few months away from seeing even the President's proposal for the SMD education budget in FY 2016. Until then, SMD education programs will remain in the state of uncertainty that began with the original federal science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education reorganization proposal back in April 2013 that the AAS stridently opposed

Prior to this sweeping STEM education reorganization proposal, and dating back to the 1990s, SMD missions allocated 1% of their budgets to peer-reviewed EPO activities. Over the past decade-plus, many of these mission-based programs developed strategic partnerships between scientists and formal and informal STEM education professionals and policymakers to build "some of the nation’s best examples" of effective STEM education programs.

The Administration's proposal was rejected by both the stakeholder community and the Congress, with Congress directing SMD to continue pursuing its education work, though without restoring all of the funding across the various mission EPO budgets. These programs have continued on lean budgets throughout calendar year 2014 and face an uncertain start to 2015.

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Joshua H. Shiode
John Bahcall Public Policy Fellow
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