Statement from Ron Ottinger, STEM Next Director
May 23, 3017 – The Trump Administration has decided to double-down on funding cuts in education that would be devastating for the millions of young people and their families who rely on afterschool programs. This is particularly true for afterschool STEM learning.
The Administration’s new FY18 budget proposal once again seeks to eliminate funding for the 21st Century Learning Centers program that supports afterschool learning opportunities. But it would not stop there. It would also decimate other vital STEM education programs and supports, including eliminating NASA’s Office of Education and slashing funding for science research and programs that support STEM teachers. Their proposal is all the more stunning knowing that an overwhelming majority of Americans are opposed to eliminating funding for programs that support afterschool and summer learning. So too, it seems, are members of Congress: in the spending agreement approved just a few weeks ago they voted not only to keep funding for vital afterschool programs, but even provided a modest increase.
STEM – science, technology, engineering, and math – is a national priority, and afterschool STEM learning opportunities are essential for our nation’s youth and our economy. STEM learning in afterschool settings has the power to engage youth, especially youth from low-income households and girls, who have been left out of the STEM economy. Many of these young people already face barriers to pursuing STEM careers from an early age. Consider that the wealthiest 20% of families devote almost seven times the resources to their children’s enrichment activities outside school than do the poorest 20%. This leads to a significant learning and opportunity gap: youth from middle-income households spend 4,000 more hours in afterschool and summer learning activities than their peers from low-income households by the time they reach sixth grade. The impact of this disparity is evident in school and later in life, with youth from low-income households less likely to demonstrate interest in STEM and pursue STEM careers.
The real crisis in afterschool learning is that for every child in an afterschool program, there are two waiting to get in. We need to increase the number and reach of these programs to ensure access for every child. Youth-serving organizations and philanthropies are committed to doing our part, but we need the federal government to maintain its funding commitment. Failing to do so would undoubtedly push too many of our nation’s youth even farther behind.
If our nation is to solve the great social challenges it faces, afterschool STEM learning opportunities can be a vital part of the solution. Our young people will drive America’s continued economic prosperity and solve our pressing challenges – but only if we invest in their education and their lives today.
Read Ron Ottinger’s previous post about the full impact of these proposed budget cuts and the impact of afterschool STEM and other STEM learning programs here.