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STEM Funding Streams Expanded in NCLB Rewrite

The Every Student Succeeds Act, which could soon replace the 14-year-old No Child Left Behind law, gives states and districts more opportunities to use federal funds for science, technology, engineering, and math education, advocates say, and is ultimately a huge boon for the subjects. 

"This bill is a vital and important step in addressing some of the serious challenges facing science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education today in the U.S.," David Evans, the executive director of the National Science Teachers Association, says in a statement. The STEM Education Coalition, a group of businesses and professional organizations, such as Microsoft and the American Chemical Society, that advocate for STEM, is also pleased with the bill.

The ESSA bill passed the House Dec. 2 and is likely to sail through the Senate as well in the coming days. (Alyson Klein has all the nuts and bolts over at the Politics K-12 blog.)

While the bill does not reauthorize the Math Science Partnerships grant program, it does more than make up for the loss, advocates said.

Here are some STEM education highlights from the bill:

  • ESSA maintains the current requirement around science and math testing. Students would have to take math tests annually in grades 3 through 8 and once in high school, and science tests three times between grades 3 and 12. "That's a huge victory because you could have easily seen science testing disappear," James Brown, the executive director of the STEM Education Coalition, said in an interview.
  • It establishes dedicated federal funding for either a state-led STEM master-teacher corps or STEM professional development. President Obama has been pushing the creation of a STEM master-teacher corps for some time, and Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., has been a major champion of it. The bill allows the education secretary to use Title II funds to establish a competitive grant program for states to create such a corps. The goal would be "to elevate the status of the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics teaching profession by recognizing, rewarding, attracting, and retaining outstanding science, technology, engineering, and mathematics teachers, particularly in high-need and rural schools." The secretary could also use that funding for bolstering STEM professional development.
  • It helps states integrate engineering concepts into state science assessments. This is interesting because a third of states have now adopted the Next Generation Science Standards, which emphasize engineering practices, and even those that have not are moving toward including more engineering in their science instruction. As of now, there are no standardized tests aligned to the new standards. The bill would let states use federal funding to refine science assessments to "integrate engineering design skills and practices."
  • It allows both Title II and IV funding to be used for improving STEM instruction.
  • It supports alternative certification for STEM teachers, as well as differential pay. States can use federal funds to "establish, expand, or improve alternative routes for" STEM teachers. They can also use federal funds for paying teachers more for high-needs subjects, including STEM. 

STEM advocates opposed some early versions of the bill that abolished thMath and Science Partnerships, which put about $150 million toward collaborations between higher education institutions and high-need school districts.

But Brown of the STEM Education Coalition said the Every Student Succeeds Act offers many more possible funding streams for STEM than the previous law—even without the partnership grants.

 "The Math and Science Partnerships had perhaps 100 grantees every year," he said. "Now [if ESSA passes] there will be literally thousands of districts spending federal funds on STEM education activities."

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