Future of STEM Education in Doubt

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In an ongoing effort to promote STEM – science, technology, engineering, and mathematics – education, Ivanka Trump helped read “Rosie Revere Engineer” to a group of young girls at the National Museum of American History last week. Alongside Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, she emphasized the themes of resilience and confidence seen in the story.

“You are the next generation of innovators and inventors,” the first daughter told the group. “If you need someone in the passenger seat, I’ll be there to help you build it.”

Trump has made several such appearances recently, helping bring attention to the fact that women, who make up roughly half of America’s workforce, represent less than a third of those working in STEM-related professions. The author of the recent book “Women Who Work: Rewriting the Rules for Success,” she also established the Ivanka M. Trump Charitable Fund with proceeds from the book, which will grant $100,000 to a STEM program for the Boys & Girls Clubs of America.

“Boys & Girls Clubs’ STEM program and STEM Centers for Innovation are helping produce a generation of STEM-ready youth who are equipped to fill the jobs of the future, become our next generation of innovators and solve our nation’s most critical challenges,” she said in an April 20 Facebook announcement.

Her father has followed suit, signing two pieces of legislation into law that promote the movement of women into STEM. In direct response to one of those bills, NASA has announced plans to both increase its investment in STEM education and its outreach efforts to women and girls.

“Currently, only one in every four women who gets a STEM degree is working in a STEM job, which is not fair and it’s not even smart for the people that aren’t taking advantage of it,” President Trump said upon signing both measures on Feb. 28. “It’s unacceptable that we have so many American women who have these degrees but yet are not being employed in these fields. So I think that’s going to change. That’s going to change very rapidly.”

In addition, Trump announced last week that he would donate his $100,000 second-quarter salary to a “STEM-focused camp.”

“I want to start by saying how grateful I am to the president for this generous gift,” DeVos said. “The president has truly shown his commitment to our nation’s students and to reforming education in America so that every child, no matter their ZIP Code, has access to a high-quality education.”

Despite these gestures, though, the future of STEM education remains unclear at best. Panelists at a U.S. News STEM Solutions conference in May agreed that the recent reauthorization of the federal education law means that future government support for STEM education will decrease over time. Moreover, Trump’s most recent budget calls for more than $9 billion in education cuts, far from the sort of “critical” federal investment in STEM advocated by The American Association of University Women’s Anne Hedgepeth in an interview with RealClearEducation.

“Investing $100,000 in STEM camps is good news, but it can’t, for example, plug the $9 billion of cuts that the administration proposed,” Hedgepeth said. “The reality is that there are no STEM camps that can make up for that.”

Democrats have also been critical of the cuts.

“Unfortunately, promoting STEM fields would be particularly difficult if the President’s proposed $9.2 billion cut to the Department of Education took effect,” Rep. Susan Davis, a member of the House Education and Workforce Committee, said in a statement. “We need to ensure that all students, regardless of their race, gender, or socioeconomic status, have access to quality math and science curriculum.”

The White House did not return a request for comment.

Looking ahead, only a finalized budget will indicate whether the Trump administration’s professed support for STEM translates into dollars.

The numbers that emerge before the fiscal year ends on Sept. 30, Hedgepeth said, “will tell us a little more about what [the budget] looks like in terms of whether there will be continuing investment in STEM and in education overall, or whether we’ll see a retreat or a walk-back from prioritizing students and the needs that they have.”

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