Over the past few months, federal policymakers have taken a number of actions that deal with science and math education, and with encouraging more students to pursue careers in related fields. In the House, appropriators have marked up bills that would boost appropriations for the Education Department's Math and Science Partnership program, but cut funding for the similar program at NSF. At the Department of Energy, a new science education initiative to provide assistance to teachers and encouragement to students was announced last month. Additionally, a Homeland Security Education Act has been proposed in the Senate that would seek to increase the number of students pursuing degrees in S&T fields and foreign languages.
Before leaving town for the August recess, members of the House Appropriations Committee approved an FY 2005 Labor-HHS-Education appropriations bill on July 13. While the full text of the committee's bill and accompanying report are not yet publicly available, it has been reported that the committee recommended $269 million for the Department of Education's Math and Science Partnership (MSP) program. This would represent an increase of 80 percent, or $120 million, over FY 2004 funding of $149 million. As readers may recall, the Administration requested $269 million for FY 2005, but would have used the $120 million increase for a new initiative focused strictly on improving secondary-school mathematics education. Initial reports indicate that under the committee's bill, the additional funds would not be fenced off for this purpose, but would increase total funding for the MSPs. House floor action on the Labor-HHS-Education bill must wait until Congress returns in September.
As reported in FY #99, House appropriators also passed an FY 2005 VA/HUD spending bill that would provide $82.5 million for NSF's Math and Science Partnerships, essentially the same amount as requested by the White House as a first step in phasing out this program. This is 40 percent, or $56.7 million, below the FY 2004 level of $139.2 million. According to the draft committee report, funding for the MSP program would remain in NSF's Education and Human Resources (EHR) Activity instead of being transferred to Integrative Activities as proposed by the Administration.
In related news, initiatives to improve science education have been proposed for several federal agencies.
At DOE, on July 8 Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham announced a program by which the department and its national laboratories would help promote and enhance science education through grades K-12 and beyond. The seven-step initiative, called STARS: Scientists Teaching and Reaching Students, incorporates the following components: A program to bring K-12 and community college instructors to DOE national labs to work with scientists; expansion of Argonne National Laboratory's "Ask A Scientist" website, with a link from DOE's home page; expected annual "What's Next" conferences to focus student and public attention on innovative and breakthrough technologies; Career Days when DOE scientists would visit local schools; Science Appreciation Days when national labs would host students; use of prominent DOE scientists to promote science as a career; and establishment of an Office of DOE Science Education to coordinate and implement the initiative. In his announcement, Abraham stated, "It is critical that we leverage the resources of this Department...to help create a new generation of scientists who will achieve the scientific breakthroughs and technological advances so essential to our future security and prosperity." The full text of Abraham's remarks and more information on the initiative are available at http://www.science.doe.gov, under DOE Science Education Initiative.
In another attempt to ensure that federal agencies will have the S&T workforce they need for the future, Senator Richard Durbin (D-IL) introduced a Homeland Security Education Act (S. 2299) that calls for the Secretary of Education to establish a student loan interest forgiveness program for certain students receiving undergraduate degrees in science, math, engineering and some foreign languages. It would also establish grant programs and partnerships between K-12 schools and institutions of higher education to encourage students to develop proficiency and pursue degrees in the fields of foreign languages, science, math and engineering, and partnerships between K-12 school districts and the private sector to help upgrade science curricula, labs, equipment and teaching skills. Durbin, with Senators Daniel Akaka (D-HI) and Kent Conrad (D-ND) as co-sponsors, introduced his bill this spring, and it has been referred to the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, where it awaits consideration.