The U.S. Senate and House of Representatives have passed separate legislation intended to strengthen math and science education and improve the nation’s effort to compete in the global economy.
The Senate voted April 25 to authorize an additional $16 billion for math and science programs over the next four years to keep the nation at the forefront of technology breakthroughs. The 88-8 vote sent the America Competes Act to the House, which just passed similar legislation.
The increase would boost total spending in these programs to $60 billion over the four-year period, said Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., a former education secretary.
The authorized spending would double total funding for the National Science Foundation in five years and set the Energy Department’s Office of Science on a path to double over 10 years. An Innovation Acceleration Research Program would encourage federal agencies to set aside 8 percent of research and development spending for high-risk research.
The bill also would create science magnet schools, with each of the Energy Department’s national laboratories adopting a school to strengthen its math and science programs.
There would be funds to train teachers in math and science education and encourage student participation in advanced placement and international baccalaureate programs.
The legislation was sponsored chiefly by New Mexico Sens. Jeff Bingaman and Pete Domenici, respectively the Democratic chairman and ranking Republican on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.
Senate passage came a day after the House also approved legislation intended to boost the number of highly qualified math and science teachers in U.S. schools.
The “10,000 Teachers, 10 Million Minds” Science and Math Scholarship Act, which passed 389-22, would authorize more than $600 million through 2012 for scholarships and stipends for college students studying math and science in preparation for teaching careers.
They could receive annual scholarships of $10,000 if they commit to teaching elementary or secondary pupils upon graduation.
The House bill also would provide enhanced training for current math and science teachers. They could attend summer programs at universities or receive financial aid to pursue master’s degrees. It would establish a national panel to identify math and science teaching materials that have proven effective.
Rep. Bart Gordon, D-Tenn., who chairs the House Committee on Science and Technology, said the bill’s provisions were drawn from a 2005 report by the National Academy of Sciences about foreign competition facing the U.S. labor force.
“That report told us that now is the time to take bold steps to ensure that our children are prepared for the jobs of the future and that our nation can continue to compete in the global economy,” Gordon said.
Recent results from a federal test, the National Assessment of Educational Progress, found 29 percent of students in grades four and eight scoring at the proficient level or better in science. Only 18 percent of 12th-graders were proficient or better in science. Recently released 12th-grade math scores showed about one-fourth of seniors to be proficient or better in math.
The House also voted 397-20 to approve a bill, the Sowing the Seeds Through Science and Engineering Research Act, that would provide grants worth $80,000 a year to scientists and engineering researchers in the early stages of their careers.
Business groups praised Congress’ actions. “The Senate’s vote [April 25] and the House’s vote…on similar legislation provide reason to be optimistic that a bill to bolster U.S. math and science education and basic research in the physical sciences and engineering will reach the president’s desk this year,” said John J. Castellani, president of Business Roundtable.
He added, “After more than a decade of reports about the problem, we have seen momentum building for action over the past two years. With the president’s American Competitiveness Initiative and the House and Senate bills…there is bipartisan support to ensure that the U.S. maintains its scientific and technological leadership.”
Business Roundtable is leading the Tapping America’s Potential coalition, an initiative to double the number of graduates with bachelor’s degrees in science, technology, engineering, and math by 2015.