The House of Representatives and Senate have both passed their own versions of a tax reform bill. They must now conference with each other, working out differences in their bills and vote again in each chamber on passage of the final legislation. While the Senate omitted them, the House version of the bill, H.R. 1, the “Tax Cut and Jobs Act,” included troubling provisions that eliminate essential support for higher education.
In the STEM community, many of us were supported in graduate school through graduate research assistantships and graduate teaching assistantships. Provisions in the tax code allowed the university to waive our tuition and fees. For graduate students these costs were tax exempt and not considered wages for the students, but H.R. 1 repeals this provision. During the 2011-2012 academic year, about 145,000 total grad students benefited from this tax exemption according to CUPA-HR, and the Council of Graduate Schools (CGS) reported that the average tuition and fee waivers for doctoral students was $12,645.90. CGS shared a few examples of how this change in the tax code will affect graduate students here.
A number of organizations that support the higher education community sent letters to the House Ways and Means Committee expressing their concerns for the STEM community including the American Council on Education (ACE), which sent this letter, the Association of Public and Land Grant Universities (APLU) that sent this letter, and the Association of American Universities issued this statement.
On Tuesday, November 7, 2017, AAAS CEO Rush Holt sent this letter to the House Ways and Means Committee, noting AAAS is “extremely concerned with provisions in the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (H.R. 1) to repeal existing provisions in tax law that reduces the financial burden of higher education for graduate students.”
Please contact your Senators and Representatives and tell them how these changes in the tax code will affect you, your students, the university, and the STEM community at large. You can find your Senator by selecting your state here, and your Representative by entering your zip code here, and then follow instructions on their website on how to contact them. With your Senators and Representatives debating these changes, the time is now to make your voice heard.
Some young people in our schools receive an excellent education in STEM; most do not. Learning goals for science have been articulated and reflected in the Next Generation Science Standards, yet only 18 states have adopted NGSS while 16 have revised their own standards to be similar. But a recent report noted that implementation will be stalled because of the lack of NGSS aligned materials, despite claims to the contrary by many who publish K-12 materials. Adoption of mathematics standards has been mired in the political discussions of Common Core. Many teachers, lacking access to ongoing professional development, feel unprepared to provide instruction, especially around topics such as evolution and climate change. Some are also faced with the politics that often surround those issues, such as in Florida, where legislation allows any person to challenge materials to be taught in schools. Within our colleges and universities instruction is often uninspired, leaving us with a cadre of young people with limited understanding of the nature of science: what it is, how it works and why it matters. They will move into a world based in science and technology without the tools needed to manage their lives or to draw on the science needed to make decisions as citizens.
As the demographics of our population shifts and as knowledge of STEM becomes more important within our lives and our economy, we are faced with a massive challenge: providing to each and every student the quality of education that has previously been reserved for the few. Where decision-making is driven by ideology instead of evidence, we run the risk of not investing in research that supports innovation and economic growth, thus limiting our ability to cure diseases or to respond to the challenges that accompany climate change. A citizenry that does not, for example, understand the “why” of vaccination, the health impacts attendant to opioid addiction, why we must use research to help us manage and preserve our national parks, or the changing nature of work as jobs require greater quantitative and computing skills, pose real threats to our American ideals and democratic society.
For over four decades AAAS has been a strong advocate for quality education for all. We have had special initiatives that target populations underrepresented in science and engineering. We develop models that reinforce that in both formal and informal education. AAAS developed Project 2061, and the products of that initiative haveguided and informed subsequent standards development work and statements of learning goals for science. AAAS supports programs of classroom volunteers to partner with teachers and develops and disseminates materials for K-12 teachers as well as for use by college and university faculty. We are building tools to support more local engagement with school systems and boards.