NASA’s FY2014 budget request was officially presented last week. As expected, the news is not good for NASA Education.

The FY2014 budget calls for $94.2 million in NASA Education spending, down from $136.1 million in FY2012 and $136.9 million (estimated) in FY2013. The current budget is already down sharply, from a high of $169.2 billion in FY2009. The budget forecast for the next five years calls for Education spending to remain flat at $94.2 million per year.

Under the FY2014 request, funding for STEM Education and Accountability Projects will drop from $50 million to $31.2 million. Funding for the NASA Space Grant Consortia will drop from $40 million in FY 2012 to $24 million in FY 2014. Funding for the Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR) will drop from $18.4 million to $9.0 million. The only line item not affected by cuts is the Minority University Research Education Program, which remains flat at $30 million.

To meet its education goals with fewer resources, NASA plans to work more closely with other agencies. According to the budget request, “The Agency’s education efforts will be fundamentally restructured into a consolidated education program funded through the Office of Education, which will coordinate closely with the Department of Education, the National Science Foundation, and the Smithsonian Institution. The best NASA education and public engagement programs from throughout the Agency will be awarded funding through a competitive process. The Agency will also make NASA’s education assets available to a wider audience through the new STEM consolidation partners.”

Under the FY2014 plan, NASA will consolidate the independent education functions of its various mission directorates, offices, and centers into a single STEM Education and Accountability Project. All of these will now be under the NASA Office of Education, which is taking on more responsibility even as its budget is reduced.

The budget request puts a positive spin on these changes, saying that “the Administration’s new STEM education paradigm in order to reach an even wider range of students and educators.” Nevertheless, NASA will be trying to reach more students and teachers with far less money. Simply consolidating the education programs under one centralized bureaucracy will not achieve that goal. Unless NASA Education finds new, innovative, and more efficient ways of reaching teachers and students, its effectiveness will be restricted by the much reduced funding.

Unfortunately, there does not seem to be any way out of this box, as the Administration and Congress continue to pour money into budgetbusters such as the James Webb Space Telescope, Orion, and Space Launch System, at the expense of other NASA programs. Ironically, the money being spent on Orion and SLS will actually increase the cost of sending NASA astronauts into space and reduce the number of missions NASA is able to undertake.

Combined with the reductions in education spending, the low flight rate for NASA astronauts will reduce NASA’s ability to inspire the next generation. Fortunately, this will be offset in future years by a growing number of citizen space explorers flying on commercial systems such as the SpaceX Dragon capsule and a much larger number flying on suborbital spacecraft from companies such as Virgin Galactic and XCOR Aerospace.

Written by Astro1 on April 17th, 2013 , Education

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    Rick Boozer commented

    JWST wouldn’t be a problem if it weren’t for SLS and Orion. At least it serves a defined purpose for which there is no commercial alternative.

    April 18, 2013 at 8:35 am