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“Too often in the day-to-day learning of science, the fun is missing,” he said.

The yearly contest, he added, is an important way of fighting that concept.

Some in Congress, however, worry that many students, particularly those in low-income, inner-city school districts, don’t have the parental and teacher support system or the needed funding to work on innovative ideas.

One of ExploraVision’s winning teams attends Virginia Virtual Academy, an online learning system requiring extensive involvement from parents. Another winning team came from New York City’s Stuyvesant High School, which admits students only after they have passed an entrance exam.

“Schools like this simply are not an option for many low-income families,” Rep. Marcia L. Fudge, Ohio Democrat, said at Thursday’s hearing, where four winning students and their teachers also addressed lawmakers.

Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson, Texas Democrat and her party’s ranking member on the committee, said that while it’s important to recognize and celebrate student achievement, no one should be fully satisfied until all students are on an equal playing field.

“There are too many students across the country who do not have the opportunity to participate,” she said. “No one entity can solve this problem alone. There is a role for all of the … stakeholders.”