May 22, 2017

Udall, Heinrich Urge Against Cuts to NASA Funding

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senators Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich urged the Senate Appropriations Committee to support NASA’s Office of Education in the coming fiscal year despite a proposal by President Trump to eliminate the office, which works to inspire and educate students across the country to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). NASA’s Office of Education programs include the Space Grant College and Fellowship Program -- a competitive, state-federal partnership that functions through consortia in all 50 states, Puerto Rico, and the District of Columbia; 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; $25 million in direct financial assistance; and literally hundreds of thousands of STEM education and enrichment programs for students and teachers.

In a letter to the chairman and lead Democrat of the Senate Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies — who oversee funding for NASA — the senators wrote, "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," adding that, "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,” the senators wrote. “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. ”

The letter is supported by STEM educators who say NASA's program has helped inspire students — especially from minority and disadvantaged backgrounds — to pursue space and STEM careers.

“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.”

The letter was led by U.S. Senators Tim Kaine (D-Va.) and Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.). Joining Udall, Heinrich, Kaine and Baldwin in signing the letter were U.S. Senators Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Maggie Hassan (D-N.H), Joe Manchin (D-W.V.), Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), Al Franken (D-Minn.), Chris Coons (D-Del.), Jack Reed (D-R.I.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Gary Peters (D-Mich.), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Jon Tester (D-Mont.), Richard Durbin (D-Ill.), Bernie Sanders (D-Vt.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), and Mark Warner (D-Va.).

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.

Sincerely,