STEM Priority for DoE

Earlier this week, President Trump directed a memo to Secretary DeVos that encouraged the Department of Education to use $200 million from the Department’s budget to fund grant programs to support “high-quality STEM education, including Computer Science in particular. The memo also encouraged the Department to “prioritize helping districts recruit and train teachers capable of providing students with a rigorous education in STEM fields, focusing in particular on Computer Science. Noting the growing role of technology in driving the American economy, with many jobs increasingly requiring STEM and computer science skills, the President sees the initiative as supportive of one of his administration’s key priorities—to better equip America’s young people with the relevant knowledge and skills that will enable them to secure high paying, stable jobs throughout their careers.

So, the Department has been told to establish the promotion of high-quality STEM education, with a focus on computer science as a priority, and take that priority into account when awarding grant funds in fiscal year 2018 and in future years. It is also supposed to explore administrative actions that will add or increase focus on computer science in existing K-12 and post-secondary programs.

The President, however, did not propose new funding to support this effort. Instead, the Secretary of Education will identify the grant programs to which the STEM priority will apply and estimate the total amount of associated grant funds that will support high quality STEM education, including computer science.

The private sector has announced its support for this initiative to the tune of $300 million. The New York Times reports that Amazon, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, and Salesforce are contributing $50 million each; Lockheed Martin guaranteed $25 million; and Accenture, General Motors and Pluralsight are each contributing $10 million. The money will be disbursed over a five-year period. The private sector support is reminiscent of an Obama administration strategy. Unable to get his proposal for $4 billion in computer science funding through Congress, Obama managed to enlist the support of some 500 private companies, foundations, and nonprofit organizations for the Computer Science for All initiative. He also wrangled more than $300 million in private sector funds to support STEM education.

The good news here is that STEM/Computer Science will be a stated priority for the Department of Education, with some associated reporting requirements that may mean that something really happens. The bad news is that, absent new funding, the pie doesn’t get any bigger. As far as I can tell from this memorandum, the Secretary will apply the STEM priority to existing grant programs. That likely translates operationally to awarding extra points in competitive grants to districts and/or states applying for those grants that propose a STEM/Computer Science emphasis. It’s not clear to me if a STEM priority could be attached to a formula program, like Title I or Title III, which are essentially based on per-pupil allocations. Marketers with STEM/Computer Science solutions should keep an eye out for either more details from the Department or—more likely—for the identification of grants to which the STEM priority has been applied. That is mandated to happen within 30 days of Congress passing final appropriations for the fiscal year. The current CR runs out in mid-December, though we may see another short-term CR that takes us into calendar year 2018.