First, the not-so-good news: President Obama’s proposed FY14 budget will consolidate federal K-12 science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education funding from 50+ agencies into only three: the National Science Foundation, Department of Education, and Smithsonian. Under the proposed budget, K-12 programs at the National Institutes of Health – including the Science Education Partnership Award (SEPA) will be ELIMINATED. No other federal agency supports programs comparable to those that would be lost.
The programs slated for elimination have been a tremendous resource for K-12 students and teachers, especially those in minority and disadvantaged schools, for whom biomedical educational resources are very limited. Equally important, they are unique among all federal programs in enhancing health literacy and are crucial to NIH’s mission of promoting the health of our nation’s citizens. “In-person” programs engage more than 82,500 K-12 students and 5,750 K-12 teachers each year and online programs reach more than 20 million annually. Exhibitions at some of the nation’s largest museums and science centers reach millions more children, teachers and families
NIH precollege programs enable biomedical researchers, health professionals and educators at universities, colleges, science museums and other organizations to connect with teachers, children and their families across the country. This outreach provides our communities with invaluable learning opportunities related to research, health, and wellness. Biomedical and health sciences are important areas of workforce development for the US economy in the 21st Century. Research demonstrates that NIH K-12 education programs are key to attracting students to these fields, thereby driving a robust biomedical economy and enhancing national health and wellness.
K-12 education at the NIH not only benefits the participating children, but is also a huge asset to graduate students who help facilitate funded programs. Science does not merely involve working in a lab every day to collect data; the crux of its progress involves successfully communicating ideas to the public. This is often done through publications, but many times this means papers with erudite jargon not readily understood by all readers. Programs such as The Science Club (https://scienceclub.northwestern.edu/front-page), a SEPA-funded organization operating as a partnership between Northwestern University in Chicago and the Boys and Girls Club, give graduate students in the sciences and engineering an avenue to work on clarifying their scientific explanations, as well as piquing the interest of the next generation of scientists. To rally the K-12 students to the science projects, the graduate students must be both understandable and engaging. With each passing club session, the graduate students home in on how to articulate concepts, and at the same time, the K-12 students learn more, and their enthusiasm increases.
Now, a glimmer of good news: at the recent NIH/SEPA Program Directors’ meeting, there was widespread agreement that this decision can still be reversed. But it will take congressional action (e.g. a budget amendment) to make it happen. Please help us tell the NIH and Congress that the proposed consolidation of federal STEM educational funding isn’t the right thing to do!