A last-minute vote by Congress Thursday likely spared a unique science program for elementary students in Los Alamitos that was in danger of losing its funding before it ever began.
STARBASE, a 40-state Department of Defense youth program that aims to teach 5th grade students the importance of science, technology, engineering and math, received funding in the latest appropriations bill that passed through the Legislature Thursday.
Officials expect to hold a ribbon cutting on base in May for one of the two buildings under construction that will serve the planned local STARBASE program. They also estimate the program will serve about 4,000 students from Orange County, Los Angeles County and Riverside County every year.
STARBASE faced a challenge earlier this month when Senator John McCain (AZ, R) proposed an amendment to the 2013 appropriations bill that would have eliminated all funding for the program. However, the House passed the bill without the amendment Thursday.
Brigadier General Jim Gabrielli, who manages the California National Guard’s Youth & Community Programs Task Force – which oversees the Sacramento STARBASE program and the planned Los Al one – said it “feels great” to have financially backing for the local program, which would have a special focus on under-served students and nearby school districts.
“It would have been – I hate to use the word but I will anyway – a crime to see the program go,” Gabrielli said.
According to Gabrielli, the combined construction cost for the dedicated Starbase buildings on the Los Al base are about $2 million, with the DoD paying half and the state paying the other half in a onetime purchase. Gabrielli added that the Army National Guard runs the majority of the STARBASEs in the 40 states where the program is active, but other branches of the military manage some of them, too. For example, the San Diego program is run by the Navy.
Since the state program's inception in Sacramento in 1993, Gabrielli estimates it has taught "very close to" 50,000 students. The program features weeklong hands-on experiences for about 25 hours.
According to Gabrielli, the program aims to give kids a love of the hard sciences at a point when many students are at an age that they start to lose their fascination with and grasp of the difficult subjects.
“There just aren’t enough graduates in those fields to meet the need of the Department of Defense, as well as all other agencies in the United States, and high-tech companies as well,” Gabrielli said. “Our schools in the United States are just not producing enough graduates with background in those highly desired fields.”
When Senator McCain proposed the amendment to remove STARBASE’S funding, a number of representatives, including local Congressman Alan Lowenthal, opposed the move, sending letters of opposition to a number of senators.
“It would be a shame to lose this important program and for these youth to not have the opportunity to excel in the STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) fields and contribute to our economy and nation,” Lowenthal wrote in the letter. “Please oppose any efforts to eliminate funding for the STARBASE Youth Program."
After Congress hammers out the final details of the bill, the legislation will head to the White House.
While the final decision is up to the president, it appears the program will receive funding this year.
However, like many government programs, 2014 could have another share of budget challenges.
“Next year’s still up in the air,” said Lt. Col. Denise Varner, executive officer forthe California National Guard Youth & Community Programs Task Force.