Today the chairman of the House Science Committee introduced H.R. 5031, the “STEM Education Act of 2014’”, to promote STEM education at NSF. The computer science community is a direct beneficiary: the first item in the bill would require federal agencies to include computer science in their definition of STEM.
You’ll recall Science Committee Chair Lamar Smith (R-TX) has been trying to move a reauthorization of the COMPETES Act, called the FIRST Act, but had met with much resistance from both the science advocacy community and the Democrats in the committee minority. That bill’s route to passage promised to be challenging, and ever since a rather contentious markup of the bill its progress has stalled.
However, in the interests of still wanting to do something legislatively, Smith decided to work with the Democratic minority on his committee to break out parts of FIRST to use as stand alone bills. These would be the least contentious and most bipartisan parts of the FIRST Act. This STEM bill is the first of possibly three total bills (the other possible bills are NIST reauthorization and international science cooperation).
As for specifics of the bill, it has three parts (it is actually a very short bill). The first part, which is of most importance to the CS community, is the explicit inclusion of Computer Science in the definition of “STEM education.” The inclusion of CS in STEM is aimed at ensuring that CS won’t get left out of future STEM Ed initiatives at the Federal level (at least at NSF, NASA, NOAA, Energy, and NIST…the agencies under the jurisdiction of the Science Committee). The bill also authorizes STEM agencies to fund research that advances the field of informal STEM education and expands the NSF Noyce Scholarship Program to include awardees with bachelor’s degrees (currently only people with master degrees qualify) and provide funding authorization to support NSF Master Teacher Fellows for a year. All three of these provisions are largely bipartisan and funding neutral.
This bill is very good news for the CS community and the science community as a whole, and hopefully indicates a new embrace of bipartisanship on the committee, after a fairly discordant period.