U.S. senators Wednesday wrote a letter to the Senate Appropriations Committee, urging members not to cut NASA’s Office of Education, which works to educate students nationwide to pursue careers in technology, science, engineering and math (STEM).

The call was led by Sens. Tim Kaine, D-Va., Hillary Clinton 2016 running mate, and Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., who co-chair the Senate Career and Technical Education (CTE) Caucus, along with 32 other senators. The politicians urged the Senate Appropriations Committee to support the space agency’s Office of Education in the coming fiscal year.

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President Donald Trump’s budget proposal didn’t slash NASA’s budget as much as it did the Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Energy. Nonetheless, the president’s blueprint calls for the elimination of NASA’s Office of Education and some Earth science missions, and also reduces funding for Earth science research grants.

The White House said the reason why it was cutting the Office of Education was because it “has experienced significant challenges in implementing a NASA-wide education strategy and is performing functions that are duplicative of other parts of the agency.”

The senators said in the letter the elimination of NASA’s Office of Education will hurt the nation’s workforce.

“We recognize that you face significant budget constraints, but we urge you to support the NASA Office of Education because its mission is critical to boosting the nation’s workforce competitiveness,” the senators wrote.

The Office of Education includes the Space Grant College and Fellowship Program, “a competitive, state-federal partnership that functions through consortia in all 50 states, Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia,” that has nearly 1,000 partner institutions. The Office of Education also supports the Minority University Research and Education Project. The Office of Education has a good track record too, with an estimated 90 percent of students who participate in Space Grant-funded activities moving on to either a STEM job in industry, NASA or academia, or enrolling in a STEM graduate program, NASA program data show. 

“At a time when talent is desperately needed for STEM jobs across the country, we should be enabling and encouraging minority students to pursue careers in STEM fields, not shuttering the programs that open pathways for underrepresented populations to the STEM pipeline,” the senators wrote.

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The senators also cited NASA’s “historic year for its educational programs with the release of 'Hidden Figures,' ” the film that featured Octavia Spencer, Taraji P. Henson, Janelle Monáe and Kevin Costner. It was nominated for Academy Awards.

“As we learned through the stories of Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson in 'Hidden Figures,' opening doors to STEM careers for young, talented people will ultimately enable the whole nation to reach new heights,” the letter said.

Leland Melvin, astronaut and former NASA associate administrator for education, also weighed in against cutting the program.

“A skinny black kid from a small southern town, who never imagined working in the space industry, was given an opportunity to do so because of NASA Education,” he said. “My career was only possible because of the programs committed to providing opportunity to anyone willing to pursue their dreams. It is imperative that we inspire the next generation of STEM explorers by continuing to fund NASA education.”