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Science Committee Members Introduce Bills to Improve Education and Research for Competitiveness


Source: http://www.spaceref.com

WASHINGTON, May 11, 2006 – House Science Committee Members today introduced three bills that will strengthen U.S. economic competitiveness by improving math and science education and research.

The bills would strengthen and expand existing K-12 and undergraduate education programs at the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the Department of Energy (DOE) and would strengthen and expand programs at those two agencies that fund innovative research by new faculty.

The three bills are: H.R. 5358, the Science and Mathematics Education for Competitiveness Act, sponsored by Rep. Joe Schwarz (R-MI); H.R. 5356, the Early Career Research Act, sponsored by Rep. Michael T. McCaul (R-TX); and H.R. 5357, the Research for Competitiveness Act, also sponsored by Rep. McCaul. The bills are cosponsored by Science Committee Chairman Sherwood Boehlert (R-NY), Space and Aeronautics Subcommittee Chairman Ken Calvert, Environment, Technology and Standards Subcommittee Chairman Vernon Ehlers (R-MI), Energy Subcommittee Chairman Judy Biggert (R-IL.), Research Subcommittee Chairman Bob Inglis (R-SC) and Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX).

The bills have been endorsed by a wide range of business, education, science and engineering groups, which are listed at the end of this release.

“Our nation is facing a true crisis of competitiveness,” Rep. Schwarz said. “Our workforce is not dominant in the global economy. Our primary and secondary schools are lagging behind the rest of the world. Countries like China and India are graduating millions more math, science, and engineering students than the United States. We cannot afford to sit idly by or we face a realistic chance of a decline in our standard of living.

“Part of the solution to this problem is improving our education system. We need highly qualified individuals teaching our students at all levels, especially in the fields of math, science, and engineering. This legislation will provide the financial incentive to create this necessary teacher workforce, and get our nation back on track to being the technological leader in the global economy.”

Rep. McCaul said, “Nothing less than America’s strong-hold in the global IT (information technology) marketplace is at stake.  These two bills put the support and resources in place to give our nation’s brightest minds the opportunities to bring their innovations to industry and build and develop their skills to help America maintain its high-tech workforce and its foothold as the world’s top technology leader.”

Chairman Boehlert said, “As a nation, we must do everything possible to remain competitive, and that starts with ensuring that we have the best scientists and engineers in the world. That won’t be the case if we don’t invest more and more wisely in attracting the best teachers, in teacher training, in improving undergraduate education, and in funding bright, young researchers with the most creative ideas. These bills, following the lead of the ‘Gathering Storm’ and related reports, are designed to achieve all of those goals. Along with the spending increases called for in the President’s American Competitiveness Initiative, these bills will help secure the nation’s future prosperity.”

“These bills address important needs of our nation by expanding innovative research opportunities and supporting content-driven teacher development and undergraduate and graduate education in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics,” said Rep. Ehlers (R-MI). “We know that a single teacher can have a tremendous impact on a student, and we need to support teachers for their entire careers, providing them with the necessary tools to empower students with the skills needed for 21st Century jobs. STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) education is the best way that we can equip our nation to remain competitive and innovative in the global economy. The bills also demonstrate a strong commitment toward fundamental research, and place an emphasis on the promise of young research professors. I look forward to working with my colleagues and the scientific community to advance this important legislation.”

Rep. Biggert said, “I believe research and education are the foundation of our national competitiveness and I applaud Representatives Schwarz and McCaul for introducing a package of bills that further strengthens that foundation.  These bills not only recognize the direct benefit of our federal investment in research, they also recognize the importance of research to the education of our next generation of scientists and engineers, and the teachers who guide and motivate them.

“I am glad to see that these bills take advantage of the expertise and capabilities at the DOE National Labs through scholarships, fellowships, and other education programs.  I am particularly pleased this package authorizes DOE’s summer institutes for middle school teachers, which give them an opportunity to improve their knowledge of math and science.  These institutes have proven effective.  Only by bringing to bear the full suite of the Nation’s resources in science and engineering will 10,000 highly trained and highly motivated teachers reach 10,000,000 minds.”

Rep. Calvert said, “The three bills introduced today will enhance the American Competitiveness Initiative.   We must to keep our Nation great by continuing to invest in all the research and development agencies of the government – including NASA.  The legislation provides a foundation for incentivizing our students in math and science and encouraging them to pursue careers as teachers and researchers. In addition the bills promote energy research and may also lead the Nation towards energy self-sufficiency.”

“The National Science Foundation has unique programs that inspire math and science teachers,” said Rep. Inglis. “That inspiration has the potential of producing some of our best engineers and scientists of the future. Investing in these programs will ensure our competitive edge by educating a workforce of passionate students, eager to solve our energy and technology challenges.”

Rep. Smith added, “To compete in today’s high-tech global economy we need to encourage innovation, foster creativity and promote a talented workforce. This is a critical challenge facing our country. The legislation offers incentives for students to pursue careers in math and science and ensures American classrooms are filled with highly qualified teachers. These measures ensure the next generations of Americans are prepared to meet the challenges of the 21st Century.”

The Science and Mathematics Education for Competitiveness Act reflects testimony the Committee received at a recent series of hearings on education. The Act particularly emphasizes the importance of bolstering undergraduate math and science education programs, which witnesses at a March 15 Research Subcommittee hearing cited as a key to increasing the American technological workforce, improving overall science literacy, and especially strengthening K-12 math and science education by improving teacher training in those fields.

Specifically, the bill would:

  • Strengthen and expand the Robert Noyce Teacher Scholarship Program at NSF, created by legislation the Committee passed in 2002, which provides scholarships to students majoring in STEM fields who commit to teaching after graduation;
  • Strengthen and focus the Math and Science Partnership Program at NSF, also created by legislation the Committee passed in 2002, to fund teacher training to improve math and science instruction at the elementary and secondary levels;
  • Extend the authorization of and expand NSF’s Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics Talent Expansion Program (STEP), also created by legislation the Committee passed in 2002, which provides grants to colleges and universities to increase the number of students majoring in STEM fields;
  • Ensure that funding for the Integrative Graduate Education and Research Traineeship (IGERT) program grows as NSF’s budget increases. IGERT supports graduate students in cutting-edge interdisciplinary fields;
  • Establish a program to fund Centers for Undergraduate Education in Science, Mathematics, and Engineering at NSF to improve the quality of teaching and curricula in undergraduate classes in STEM fields;
  • Authorize education programs at the Department of Energy, and require DOE to inventory and evaluate its education programs.

The Early Career Research Act would ensure that NSF’s program to help fund young faculty increases as the NSF budget grows by setting aside 3.5 percent of the agency’s research funding for that purpose. Under the bill, NSF would provide grants of at least $80,000 for up to five years to help researchers establish a lab and pursue risky research in emerging fields. The legislation authorizes$25 million at DOE for each of fiscal years 2007 through 2011 for a similar program to support research by new faculty.

The Research for Competitiveness Act would also fund early career researchers, but would encourage researchers to seek funds from industry. Under the program, NSF and DOE would offer $50,000 grants for up to five years, and make an additional $50,000 available provided the researcher raises one-to-one matching funds from private industry for the proposed research. A similar program was in place at NSF in the 1980s.

The bills are endorsed by:

Alliance for Science & Technology Research in America
AeA (formerly American Electronics Association)
American Geological Institute
American Society of Plant Biologists
Association of American Universities
Battelle Memorial Institute
Council on Competitiveness
Council of Graduate Schools *
Electronic Industries Alliance
Innovation and Competitiveness Coalition
Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers
Materials Research Society
Mathematical Association of America *
National Association of State Universities and Land-Grant Colleges
Semiconductor Industry Association
STEM Ed Coalition *
Task Force on the Future of American Innovation
Telecommunications Industry Association
Texas Instruments

* These organizations only endorsed the education legislation (Schwarz bill) because the other bills are not in their area of interest or expertise.

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