NSF Budget Would Grow by 13%, Adding Science and Education Programs

Jeff tries to explain how government works to readers of Science.

The National Science Foundation (NSF) would receive a 13% increase in President Barack Obama's 2012 budget, to $7.77 billion. That huge jump in the document that Obama submitted today to Congress would keep it on track for a 10-year (2006 to 2016) doubling that is authorized under last year's America COMPETES Act.

The request certainly delivers on the president's promise in his State of the Union speech to "out-innovate and out-educate" the rest of the world. But it's a figure that few expect to be reached once Congress has completed work on the request.

The budget would boost research support by 12%, to $6.23 billion. Several initiatives emphasize interdisciplinary science, an approach that reflects the preferences of the new NSF Director Subra Suresh, who championed such research in his previous position as engineering dean at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Among them is a new $30 million National Robotics Initiative in collaboration with other federal agencies. NSF's 2012 request would also continue work on five major facilities now under construction. But it drops all support for the proposed Deep Underground Science and Engineering Laboratory (DUSEL) in South Dakota, which NSF's oversight board has said is not consistent with the agency's mission.

The biggest changes from current activities would come within the foundation's education directorate. Although the directorate would receive a boost of only 4%, to $911 million, several programs aimed at increasing the quality of U.S. science education are being revamped. One shocker would be to eliminate the Graduate STEM Fellows in K-12 Education Program, a decade-long attempt to lure graduate students into the schools that was begun by former NSF Director Rita Colwell. NSF is also phasing out its Science of Learning Centers, which funds several large centers that focus on research to improve student learning.

At the same time, NSF hopes to launch a $20 million program to improve the training of future teachers and the skills of those already in the classroom. The money for what's dubbed Teacher Learning for the Future is being taken from its Noyce fellowship program, which supports undergraduate science majors who promise to teach, and its Math Science and Partnerships program, which links university researchers and local school districts. The program would complement an $80 million effort to be run by the Department of Education.

NSF has also proposed expanding its efforts to attract more minorities into science with a $20 million pilot project called Transforming Broadening Participation through STEM. It is intended to emphasize Hispanic-serving institutions and would complement existing programs aimed at historically black colleges and tribal institutions that Congress has told NSF to preserve.

NSF officials will release more information on the proposed 2012 budget at a 3 p.m. briefing.

See our complete coverage of Budget 2012.

Posted in Funding Budget 2012