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Cutting of science program halted

Starbase saved; gives lessons to fifth-graders

The U.S. Senate voted Monday to discard a proposal that would have eliminated the Pentagon’s Starbase program for fifth-graders, including a Fort Wayne academy.

The measure was among more than 100 amendments offered to a resolution for extending funds for the federal government through Sept. 30. Current funding expires March 27.

The Senate voted to end debate and whittle the list of amendments to nine – excluding the Starbase defunding proposal in the process – at the recommendation of the sponsors of the legislation, Senate Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., and Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala.

Starbase provides laboratory lessons and projects in science, technology, engineering and math to elementary-school students at nearly 80 military bases. The only lab in the Hoosier State is Starbase Indiana at the Air National Guard’s 122nd Fighter Wing. The local site opened in February 2012 and has been attended by more than 800 fifth-graders.

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., filed the amendment to end funding for Starbase; he said it is slated to receive $5 million in the remaining six months of fiscal 2013. In a floor speech Monday, McCain called Starbase “this nice-to-have but not-necessary-to-have program.”

He complained that the Department of Defense has increased spending “for non-essential programs that are clearly not a national security priority” at the same time that automatic budget reductions known as sequestration are diminishing the military’s combat readiness.

“It’s nice that fifth-graders are able to hear from members of the military. Meanwhile, we can’t deploy an aircraft carrier,” McCain said in remarks broadcast by C-SPAN. “With a war going on, a budget crisis at our doorstep, this is how we elect to spend our taxpayers’ defense money.”

His amendment also would have cut funding for the Civil Air Patrol Corp., a volunteer civilian auxiliary of the Air Force. McCain at one point Monday referred to $6 billion worth of non-essential military programs, including alternative energy research, as “junk” and “pork.”

Ten Republicans joined 53 Democrats and independents – including Sen. Joe Donnelly, D-Ind. – in voting to end debate on the appropriations resolution in a motion that required 60 votes to pass. Thirty-five Republicans, including Indiana Sen. Dan Coats, a member of the Appropriations Committee, opposed the move.

Starbase Indiana has an annual budget of $300,000, according to director Scott Liebhauser, one of four full-time employees at the academy. The Pentagon had expected to spend $21.3 million nationwide on Starbase in fiscal 2013, compared with $27.4 million in fiscal 2011 and $24.3 million in fiscal 2012, according to a budget request.