FY21 Budget Request: STEM Education

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Publication date: 
28 April 2020

President Trump’s fiscal year 2021 budget request largely repeats past proposals to cut STEM education programs across federal science agencies, while also proposing a new STEM initiative at the Department of Education focused on Minority Serving Institutions.


Students at a March 5 ceremony announcing the name for NASA’s next Mars rover.

Students at a March 5 ceremony announcing the name for NASA’s next Mars rover.

(Image credit – Aubrey Gemignani / NASA)

The Trump administration’s latest budget request includes proposals for federal STEM education programs that resemble those from previous years. Once again, it seeks to defund education offices at NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration while trimming programs at other science agencies. However, it includes a new proposal to consolidate rather than eliminate various Department of Education grant programs. It also places greater emphasis on career and technical education (CTE) programs and proposes to launch a new STEM initiative focused on Minority Serving Institutions.

Highlights for selected programs are summarized below, and details are available in FYI’s Federal Science Budget Tracker.

Department of Education

Program consolidation. The administration proposes to merge close to 30 of the department’s programs for elementary and secondary schools into a single formula grant program. The department’s budget request argues the move would help to “eliminate federal overreach and empower states and local school districts to choose the evidence-based strategies and interventions most likely to improve student outcomes.” It adds that states and local districts would be able to use the funds for “any authorized purpose of the consolidated programs.”

Among the grant programs affected are ones that can be used to support various STEM activities, including the Student Support and Academic Enrichment Grants, Supporting Effective Instruction State Grants, 21st Century Community Learning Centers, Teacher and School Leader Incentive Grants, and the Education Innovation and Research program. The administration had proposed to eliminate some of these programs in its past budget requests.

Career and technical education. The administration proposes more significant budget increases for CTE programs than last year, seeking to expand the CTE state grant program from $1.3 billion to just under $2 billion. The department also seeks to expand funding from $7.4 million to $90 million for programs that aim to increase the quality of CTE instruction nationwide. The expanded effort would focus on incentivizing organizations to “develop, implement, and expand high-quality CTE programs, particularly in the STEM fields, including computer science, that drive innovation and economic growth.”

Repeating a proposal from last year, the department also calls for doubling the fee assessed on H-1B visas in part to further increase funding for the CTE state grant program. It asserts the move would help “prepare American workers for jobs that are currently being filled by foreign workers, especially in STEM fields.”

Opportunity Zones initiative. In a new proposal, the department is looking to increase the budget for the Minority Science and Engineering Improvement Program from $12 million to $150 million. The boost would fund an initiative to support Minority Serving Institutions located in Opportunity Zones, which are distressed regions that were granted favorable tax treatment under the 2017 tax reform law.

Of the total, $50 million would go to Historically Black Colleges and Universities, $50 million to Hispanic Serving Institutions, and the remainder to other Minority Serving Institutions. The budget request notes the funds would be used to “create or expand STEM academic pipelines aligned with the local business community; improve public-private STEM partnerships; launch STEM entrepreneurship incubators; and incentivize or complement investment from Opportunity Funds for STEM-focused capital projects (e.g. facilities for incubators) that will help prepare the future generation of STEM professionals.”

National Science Foundation

NSF’s overall budget for STEM education activities would drop 5% to $1.3 billion under the request. The bulk of this budget resides within the Education and Human Resources (EHR) Directorate, which would see its topline drop 1% to $931 million.

Among the activities NSF proposes to pare back is its flagship Graduate Research Fellowship Program. The agency anticipates awarding 1,600 new fellowships, 376 fewer than were granted in fiscal year 2019, and states the program will “continue to align awards with NSF and administration research priorities, including AI, quantum information science, and other industries of the future.”

Meanwhile, NSF proposes to nearly double EHR’s contribution to the Research Traineeship program to $62 million, with a focus on AI-related occupations. However, NSF’s research directorates would end their funding for the program, which amounted to $21 million in fiscal year 2019.

NSF’s programs that support Minority Serving Institutions would see a range of cuts, with the steepest falling on the recently created Hispanic Serving Institutions program, which would drop from $45 million to $14 million.


For the fourth time, the administration proposes to eliminate NASA’s Office of STEM Engagement, which funds the Space Grant program, the Established Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR), and the Minority University Research and Education Project. Congress has repeatedly rejected the idea and increased the office’s budget by 9% to $120 million in its last appropriation.

STEM education activities conducted by NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, which are incorporated within the budget of the Astrophysics Division, would receive steady funding of $46 million.

Department of Defense

DOD proposes to roll back funding for its National Defense Education Program from $144 million to $100 million. Congress has driven recent increases to the program’s budget, which have gone toward initiatives such as funding DOD’s Manufacturing Engineering Education Program and increasing the number of STEM scholarships offered through the federally endowed Barry Goldwater Foundation. Although DOD’s proposal would pare back these sorts of special initiatives, it would boost base funding for its Science, Mathematics, and Research for Transformation (SMART) scholarship program from $71 million to $77 million, continuing a run of recent increases. DOD also plans to fully incorporate a pilot program that provides STEM learning opportunities at schools attended by dependents of military personnel into its ordinary STEM education and outreach program.

Department of Energy

Funding for the Workforce Development for Teachers and Scientists program in the DOE Office of Science would drop from $28 million to $21 million under the request. The cut would roll back recent increases to the Science Undergraduate Laboratory Internships and Graduate Student Research programs, reducing the number of students they support by 385 and 70, respectively. In addition, the Albert Einstein Distinguished Educator Fellowship would take a $400,000 cut, decreasing the number of K–12 STEM teachers the program places in agencies from six to four, and the Community College Internships program would be cut by $600,000, supporting 50 fewer students. Funding would remain level for the National Science Bowl, a quiz competition for middle and high school students.

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

Echoing prior requests, the administration proposes to eliminate all major programs in NOAA’s Office of Education, which support STEM activities at Minority Serving Institutions, environmental literacy initiatives, and student scholarships. The request retains $1 million of the office’s current $30 million budget for NOAA to support a “streamlined, centralized office” focused on “coordinating and improving the performance of NOAA’s numerous activities in STEM education.”