Senate Bill S.1260 (Endless Frontiers Act)

Buried in the S.1260 text (which was recently passed by the Senate) is the following section, which it looks like FIRST would be eligible for. Still a long way to go before it might become law, of course.

SEC. 114. Hands-on learning program.

(a) Findings.—Congress finds the following:

(1) Developing a robust, talented, and homegrown workforce, particularly in the fields of STEM, is critical to the success of the United States innovation economy.

(2) The United States educational system is not producing a sufficient number of workers with the necessary STEM expertise to meet the needs of the United States industry in STEM fields.

(3) Hands-on and experiential learning opportunities outside of the classroom are critical for student success in STEM subjects and careers, stimulating students’ interest, increasing confidence, and creating motivation to pursue a related career.

(4) Hands-on and experiential learning opportunities can be particularly successful in inspiring interest in students who traditionally have been underrepresented in STEM fields, including girls, students of color, and students from disadvantaged backgrounds.

(5) An expansion of hands-on and experiential learning programs across the United States would expand the STEM workforce pipeline, developing and training students for careers in STEM fields.

(b) Definitions.—

(1) ESEA TERMS.—The terms “elementary school”, “high school”, “secondary school”, and “State” have the meanings given the terms in section 8101 of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 (20 U.S.C. 7801).

(2) ELIGIBLE NONPROFIT PROGRAM.—The term “eligible nonprofit program”—

(A) means a nonprofit program serving prekindergarten, elementary school, or secondary school students; and

(B) includes a program described in subparagraph (A) that covers the continuum of education from prekindergarten through high school and is available in every State.

(c) Purposes.—The purposes of this section are to—

(1) provide effective, compelling, and engaging means for teaching and reinforcing fundamental STEM concepts and inspiring the youth of the United States to pursue careers in STEM-related fields;

(2) expand the STEM workforce pipeline by developing and training students for careers in United States STEM fields; and

(3) broaden participation in the STEM workforce by underrepresented population groups.

(d) Program authorized.—

(1) IN GENERAL.—Subject to the availability of appropriations for such purposes, the Director shall—

(A) provide grants to eligible nonprofit programs for supporting hands-on learning opportunities in STEM education, including via after-school activities and innovative learning opportunities such as robotics competitions; and

(B) evaluate the impact of such hands-on learning opportunities on STEM learning and disseminate the results of that evaluation.

(2) PRIORITY.—In awarding grants under the program, the Director shall give priority to eligible nonprofit programs serving students that attend elementary, secondary, or high schools that—

(A) are implementing comprehensive support and improvement activities or targeted support and improvement activities under paragraph (1) or (2) of section 1111(d) of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 (20 U.S.C. 6311(d)); or

(B) serve high percentages of students who are eligible for a free or reduced price lunch under the Richard B. Russell National School Lunch Act (42 U.S.C. 1751 et seq.) (which, in the case of a high school, may be calculated using comparable data from the schools that feed into the high school).

(e) Authorization of appropriations.—From the amounts made available to carry out section 106 under section 116 for each of fiscal years 2022 through 2026, the Director shall use $25,000,000 for each such fiscal year to carry out this section.

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Interesting stuff. I wonder who is behind it. Have we written off schools entirely as being incapable of properly managing funds and executing programs like this, and instead focused on granting funds to entities that specifically are not schools? Is this the privatization of something that should be included in public education, and is that a good thing or not? Schools do have the benefit of facilities and multiple funding sources, but the regulatory hurdles can often be burdensome. Thoughts?

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I have a theory that most school administrators and grant writers belong to a secret union that requires a lobotomy to enter, and apparently my experiences have been the good ones.

That goes for both public and private schools though, but for different reasons.

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Well it is composed by these folks:

Among them a NH senator and a former astronaut.

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i think that schools are capable of properly managing something like a first team but they refuse to see it as a team. most schools think of it as a club which could work for something like FLL but not at the FRC level.

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It seems like this would definitely apply to FIRST itself, but not seeing a definition of “program”, I’m wondering if this would apply to state-level groups (eg FiM), other sponsors (eg 4-H) and/or down to the level of individual teams.

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I’m no expert in reading billese, but this section under “ELIGIBLE NONPROFIT PROGRAM” says “available in every State”, which would seem to exclude non-national programs.

I think the reason being is that not every single school distinct would have a program that would fit this in. Or possibly not have teachers willing to be a mentor when it’s not part of a class or any money involved at all (however small the money might be).

Case in point is our team. We were fortunate that when the team started, they got a teacher willing to do it even though there’s no money for him at all (if anything, it costed him more money and time for the weekends and events that he has to come back…he was a saint in my book). Once he retired, we haven’t had a teacher on the team for several years now. Luckily for us we were able to build up a good working relationships with the school admin where we are able to kept a room and access to the building/room.

I’ve witnessed that first hand. For the entire life of our team we’ve been head-butting with school administration. They refuse to give us funds, buses, etc. and have previously made plans to get rid of the shop (but we fought to overturn them). Sure, they are being gracious to us by even letting us be in the school, but they have no respect or recognition of the benefits and incredible opportunities a FIRST team can have.

OK, good catch. That would seem to eliminate state and local programs, but something like 4-H which is available in all states, might qualify.

I would suggested to try to find a way to improve the working relationships with the school admin (you certainly can try to go around and above them but it’ll make things awkward if that happens). One of the key thing for us is that we have the same adult mentors (some without any kids in the school program) that are actively managing/running the things and in constant communications with the school principle. Yes, we were a pain at the beginning because we’re always asking for weekend access but once he sees the dedications and the consistency from adult mentors, he understands this isn’t just a few parents trying to do something for/with just their kids and be gone after their kids are out of the school type of situation.

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yea i’ve heard lots and lots of teams have trouble with school admins about stuff. space is a huge one for most teams. we are lucky enough to have a big space but it has been a struggle to manage it.
if you can i would recommend inviting either your president, superintendent or both. to your champs or to worlds if you go.

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Thanks for pointing this out – it definitely something to watch as it progresses through the bill process. I’m wondering when the House will take it up.

It looks like it funds a grant pool of $25M per year for 5 years, if I am reading that correctly.

There are probably several national organizations that could apply for this (FIRST, 4-H, Boys and Girls clubs, scouting organizations, etc.)

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Does FIRST qualify in that the program must cover the continuum of prekindergarten through high school… FIRST doesn’t cover pre K? 4H, scouting, clubs of all sorts would be excluded under that restriction.

FLL Discover is PreK - 1st grade / ages 4-6.

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COOL!! I wasn’t even aware of that level.

OK, finally some “rules” I can “lawyer”! So as a lawyer, I read this as follows:
(A) is what the term “Eligible Program” MEANS - “a nonprofit program serving prekindergarten, elementary school, OR secondary school students”. Note the “OR” - if it had to cover all levels, from pre-K through HS, then this would make no sense.
(B) says/clarifies that such a program, i.e., one that is described in “(A)” - also “includes” one that (a) is described in subparagraph (A), AND covers ALL levels of school, AND is available in every State. To me, (B) is simply clarifying that a program that covers ALL levels of school, and is nationwide, is not excluded for those reasons. Any program that meets the criteria in (A) is an eligible program, including those listed in (B).

Perhaps not very well written (as is the case with MUCH legislation), and it is POSSIBLE that they added (B) to further LIMIT the programs that would be covered (to only those listed in (B)), but in that case why even have (A) at all, and particularly its “OR”? Why not just say, “means a nonprofit program that covers the continuum of education from prekindergarten through high school and is available in every State”?

So that’s how I’d argue it if tasked with interpreting this statutory language.

(and yes, I’m an actual attorney, though perhaps a bit of a biased one since my interpretation means that my nonprofit would be eligible!)

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Thanks for adding your expert viewpoint on this! It will be interesting to see how this morphs as it winds its way through the House version of this legislation and reconciliation to the final bill and ultimately agency implementation. The FRC game rules are so easy to understand in comparison…

This is ironically funny to me because this whole thing-- the idea that corporate America can and should step in and supplant an uninspiring, obsolete, and ineffectual public education framework-- was central to the early US FIRST value proposition.

Modern FIRST has largely moved on from this message (because in order to maintain the organization’s growth goals they needed to harness the enormous established infrastructure associated with public schools), but Dean still holds on to it personally. Here’s something he said in an interview (intended as internal marketing for Solidworks) in 2019. Emphasis added:

Your company needs thousands…as your developers, as your internal people, as your customers. You need a world that can appreciate and make use of advanced technologies. And in a world where they’re seeing more superstars from the world of sports and entertainment if you have put them in rows in a school with 25 year old textbooks. That’s not inspiring. It’s not exciting. It’s not even relevant. The facts and those books on relevant that carry on their in their pocket, every fact known to man with instant recall. So we’ve got to stop saying we have an education crisis. We’ve got to make schools exciting places that are relevant to kids…

When kids get to see world class scientists and engineers using these powerful tools to solve problems before their very eyes, it inspires them the same way sports heroes inspire them. So when SOLIDWORKS shows up with cool technology and mentors to show kids how to use it, it suddenly makes it way more relevant than sitting in a classroom lined up looking at old textbooks. That model won’t work anymore, as schools are competing for the hearts and minds of kids that are seeing a very different world than their parents and grandparents. And we need to show them not just the superstars of other sports and the world of entertainment, we need to show them the technologies and the superstars and the capabilities of technology.

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It’s easier to understand than that: education is the realm of the states, not the federal government. Some lawmakers don’t want to give the money directly to the states because… politics. If you can get the money out of the hands of… well I think I’ll stop there.