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House Science Committee Passes Education, Research Bills

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After making revisions to gain Democratic support, the House Science Committee unanimously passed a package of education and competitiveness bills, by voice vote, on June 7. The "Science and Mathematics Education For Competitiveness" Act (H.R. 5358), would enhance science and math education programs, primarily at NSF, while the "Research for Competitiveness" Act (H.R. 5356) would combine two prior committee bills (H.R. 5356 and H.R. 5357) authorizing early career awards and fund-matching awards for young scientists and engineers.

...NSF's Mathematics and Science Partnership program would be renamed the "School and University Partnerships for Science and Mathematics Education." The focus would not be narrowed to strictly teacher improvement - as it would have under the original bill - although grant applications that emphasize teacher training would be given preference. Authorization levels for this program would be significantly increased over the original bill, ranging from $63 million in FY 2007 to $103 million in FY 2011 instead of remaining at a steady $50 million per year.

The creation of centers on undergraduate education would be incorporated into the Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics Talent Expansion Program (STEP). Provisions were added to the bill requiring NSF to study laboratory equipment donations to elementary and secondary schools by institutions of higher education, and to assess its education programs in a manner that would enable comparison of effectiveness with other federal agency education programs.

... "These measures represent an intelligent middle-ground between those who want to create scores of new, untested, expensive programs and those who argue that all that's necessary is to increase overall funding for basic research and leave everything else to chance," said Chairman Boehlert. In a June 8 speech, Boehlert was hopeful that the bills might reach the House floor before the end of this month. He also expressed optimism that the Science Committee's bills could successfully be combined with competitiveness bills in the Senate, possibly leading to a presidential signature by winter. Selected quotes from Boehlert's speech will follow in FYI #80. However, White House support of such competitiveness legislation is not yet assured. In a June 5 letter to Boehlert, Office of Science and Technology Policy Director John Marburger reportedly criticized the high authorization levels in the committee's bills and charged that they might dilute the impact of President Bush's American Competitiveness Initiative.

FYI summarizes science policy developments in Washington affecting the physics and astronomy community. Summaries are approximately one page long and are issued two or more times every week. FYI subscriptions are free; they are provided by the American Institute of Physics as a service to the science community.