Senators To Trump Administration: Do Not Hurt Workforce By Cutting NASA Education Funding

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senators Tim Kaine (D-VA) and Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), co-chairs of the Senate Career and Technical Education (CTE) Caucus, are leading a group of 32 Senators in a letter urging the Senate Appropriations Committee to support NASA’s Office of Education in the coming fiscal year. President Trump’s budget proposal for Fiscal Year 2018 (FY18) would eliminate NASA’s Office of Education, which works to inspire and educate students across the country to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM).  In Virginia, funding from NASA’s Office of Education enables students to explore careers in STEM-related fields at NASA Langley, NASA Wallops, and in Virginia’s robust technology sector.

“Given the importance of STEM education and the success of Hidden Figures, which was recently celebrated by high-ranking members of the Trump Administration at a screening at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, we were disappointed by President Trump’s budget proposal to eliminate funding for NASA’s Office of Education in FY18,” wrote the Senators. “We recognize that you face significant budget constraints, but we urge you to support the NASA Office of Education because its mission is critical to boosting the nation’s workforce competitiveness.”

“A skinny black kid from a small southern town, who never imagined working in the space industry, was given an opportunity to do so because of NASA Education,” said Leland Melvin, astronaut from Lynchburg and former NASA Associate Administrator for Education. “The experiences, activities, and inspiration that NASA Education provides to students, teachers and the community can’t be duplicated by any other organization.  No other federal agency works so closely with the scientists and engineers who make it possible for us all to explore and discover space – this is STEM in action. I worked for 24 years as a research scientist, engineer, astronaut and associate administrator of NASA Education.  My career was only possible because of the programs committed to providing opportunity to anyone willing to pursue their dreams.  It is imperative that we inspire the next generation of STEM explorers by continuing to fund NASA education.”

“As a network of state-based consortia, NASA’s National Space Grant Program has had and continues to have significant impact on building the STEM workforce and engaging and retaining students in STEM fields to meet critical national needs,” said Mary Sandy, director of the Virginia Space Grant Consortium. “Our Space Grant Consortia leverage NASA funding with state matching funds to undertake programs to meet state and national needs.  We are deeply appreciative of the strong continued support of members of Congress for NASA’s National Space Grant Program and the wonderful work done by NASA’s Office of Education.”

Joining Kaine and Baldwin in signing the letter are U.S. Senators Ron Wyden, Martin Heinrich, Ben Cardin, Dianne Feinstein, Sherrod Brown, Chris Van Hollen, Amy Klobuchar, Maggie Hassan, Joe Manchin, Mazie Hirono, Maria Cantwell, Ed Markey, Michael Bennet, Bill Nelson, Al Franken, Chris Coons, Jack Reed, Jeff Merkley, Elizabeth Warren, Robert Menendez, Cory Booker, Gary Peters, Catherine Cortez Masto, Kirsten Gillibrand, Jon Tester, Richard Durbin, Tom Udall, and Bernie Sanders, Richard Blumenthal, and Mark Warner.

The full text of the letter is below:

Dear Chairman Shelby and Ranking Member Shaheen:

As you begin work on the Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies appropriations bill for Fiscal Year 2018 (FY18), we urge you to support the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s (NASA) Office of Education.

2016 was a historic year for NASA’s educational programs with the release of Hidden Figures, an Oscar-nominated film that tells the stories of three remarkable women who broke down barriers of gender and race at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia.  Thanks to Margot Lee Shetterly’s book and the popularity of Hidden Figures, millions of American children learned about the exciting opportunities offered by science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) disciplines, including the opportunity to contribute to our nation’s space program that leads the world in innovation and exploration.  For young women and people of color – populations that are especially underrepresented in STEM fields – Hidden Figures represents a powerfully motivational story and effective recruiting tool.

Given the importance of STEM education and the success of Hidden Figures, which was recently celebrated by high-ranking members of the Trump Administration at a screening at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, we were disappointed by President Trump’s budget proposal to eliminate funding for NASA’s Office of Education in FY18.

NASA’s Office of Education includes the Space Grant College and Fellowship Program (Space Grant), a competitive, state-federal partnership that functions through consortia in all 50 states, Puerto Rico, and the District of Columbia.  With nearly 1,000 partner institutions, this program promotes wide-ranging aerospace and other NASA-relevant STEM education activities.  For every dollar that NASA provides, Space Grant consortia contribute an equal or greater amount (on average) from non-federal sources to maximize STEM engagement with students nationwide.  According to NASA program data, nearly 90% of students who participate in Space Grant-funded activities move on to either a STEM job in industry, NASA, or academia, or they enroll in a STEM graduate program.

In addition, the NASA Office of Education supports the Minority University Research and Education Project (MUREP), which provides financial assistance to the nation’s Minority Serving Institutions through internships, scholarships, and fellowship grants and cooperative agreements.  At a time when talent is desperately needed for STEM jobs across the country, we should be enabling and encouraging minority students to pursue careers in STEM fields, not shuttering the programs that open pathways for underrepresented populations to the STEM pipeline.

Importantly, approximately $25 million in NASA Office of Education funds provide direct financial assistance to thousands of students in all 50 states.  In addition to direct aid, the Office of Education also invests in far-reaching enrichment activities that expose students to STEM fields.  In 2015, nearly 633,000 elementary and secondary school students and 50,000 educators engaged in NASA-supported STEM education activities.

We recognize that you face significant budget constraints, but we urge you to support the NASA Office of Education because its mission is critical to boosting the nation’s workforce competitiveness.  For Fiscal Year 2016, Congress appropriated $115 million for the NASA Office of Education.  For Fiscal Year 2017, Congress appropriated $100 million.  This funding helps the nation make strides towards equipping students with the skills needed to enter the growing STEM workforce.  Moreover, NASA Office of Education funding supports curriculum development for teachers, which will be critical as STEM disciplines evolve to keep pace with technological innovations and the changing demands of the 21st century workforce.

We are grateful for your past support for NASA’s Office of Education and the programs that inspire students across the country to pursue NASA and STEM-related careers.  We believe that the NASA Office of Education supports important STEM education programs for students at every level, from K-12 to community college and doctoral degree programs.  As we learned through the stories of Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, and Mary Jackson in Hidden Figures, opening doors to STEM careers for young, talented people will ultimately enable the whole nation to reach new heights.

Thank you for your consideration of this request.


  • JamesG

    What they mean is, “Do not hurt workforce our district pork by cutting NASA education funding”

  • Jeff2Space

    NASA has been supporting education for decades. Way back in the late 1980’s to very early 1990s, my wife and I visited one of the NASA centers and she stopped by their education center for teachers and picked up a whole stack of copies of lesson plans (mostly with math and science tie-ins). Since this was the pre-Internet days, those photocopies were much appreciated. I helped her implement one of them for her science class that she was student teaching. The kids loved it.

  • JamesG

    Just imagine how much more you could have gotten and how much more effective it could have been if it had been from where it was supposed to be, the Dept. of Education. Assuming of course that were a competent agency, which it is not.

    We have a government that is compartmentalized into functional areas to make them most effective not to employ the most people. Theoretically anyway.

  • windbourne

    Out of all cuts proposed by Trump and they go with this one?
    No wonder congress is a mess. We elected idiots.

  • windbourne

    True, but out of all cuts, this is one that is minor compared to the R&D that is about to be cut.

  • JamesG

    Yes. But remember this is politics. Its the one that effects the most number of constituents (liberal, arts educators), and also has the greatest anti-Trump propaganda optics. Ie: “That mean ol’ Trump cutting entire education departments from the government. Robbing YOUR chil’ren of their future. blah blah blah.”

  • duheagle

    So the entire Senate Democratic Caucus comes out in favor of defending existing government spending. Talk about a Dog Bites Man story!

  • ThomasLMatula

    Yes. Of course the assumption is that these programs actually have an influence on work force development and they aren’t just eye candy for NASA’s PAO.

  • ThomasLMatula

    Probably. But how many were inspired by it to be science majors and then found STEM jobs? This is the problem – assessment. Everyone likes robots and spaceships, look at Star Wars, but do these programs actually make a difference?

  • windbourne

    This will get trump to change.

    What a waste of paper.

  • roflplatypus

    I know someone who got an internship at NASA funded through space grant, so that’s not the sort of stuff you want to cut