- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 24, 2007

The House last night approved legislation that calls for about $1.5 billion to increase the number of high-quality teachers in math, science, technology and engineering, with the goal of improving America’s ability to compete with countries such as India and China.

The Senate is expected to approve a broader, more sweeping competitiveness bill today, one that boosts America’s scientific research investment and math and science education initiatives.

The bipartisan bills are spurred in large part by a 2005 National Academies Report, which recommended major improvements in education and research, warning that America is losing its competitive edge and U.S. students trail students from other countries in math and science. President Bush also has pushed his American Competitiveness Initiative, which calls for more research and development investment and better education.

“Our position of dominance has been lost,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, said recently as he introduced the Senate bill, which is jointly backed by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican. “We are challenged by emerging countries like India and China, where national investment in basic research and subject areas such as math and science continues to grow at a far greater pace than here in the United States.”

Senate leaders chose to pass one broad bill, while the House is approaching the issue piecemeal, with more science-related bills to follow in coming weeks.

The first House bill, approved yesterday 389-22, authorizes $1.5 billion for new and existing programs that support and train K-12 teachers in math, science, engineering and technology fields. It aims to train 10,000 new teachers a year in these areas, and its centerpiece would expand a scholarship program that recruits and trains young people to be math and science teachers.

“We have a major problem in America with math and science teachers,” said Rep. Vernon J. Ehlers, Michigan Republican.

A second House bill — passed last night by a vote of 397-20 — would provide research grants to scientists and engineers who are starting their careers and would create a new federal office to track federal scientific research programs. The Congressional Budget Office estimates it would cost about $921 million from 2008 to 2012.

The more-sweeping Senate bill would expand the scholarship program for math and science teachers, make several improvements to K-12 math and science education, double the budget of the National Science Foundation to $11.2 billion by 2011, and increase funding for science programs in other agencies. Bill sponsors estimate the cost at about $59.9 billion from 2008 to 2011.

While the White House supports the bills’ goals, administration officials raised concerns this week.

An Office of Management and Budget (OMB) memo said the Senate bill “doesn’t prioritize basic research, authorizes excessive and inappropriate spending, and creates unnecessary bureaucracy and education programs.” A second OMB memo said the House teacher-support bill calls for “dramatic increases” of some programs that haven’t been proven effective.

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