A trio of bills to strengthen and enhance federal science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education and research was introduced on May 11 by several of the Republican members of the House Science Committee. One bill, sponsored by Rep. John Schwarz (R-MI), would primarily target existing programs at NSF to improve science and math education and to attract more undergraduates to STEM careers and K-12 science and math teaching. The other two bills, both sponsored by Rep. Michael McCaul (R-TX), would authorize or increase grant programs at NSF and DOE to assist early-career researchers.
"We need highly qualified individuals teaching our students at all levels, especially in the fields of math, science, and engineering," Schwarz said of his bill. "This legislation will provide the financial incentive to create this necessary teacher workforce." Regarding the other two bills, McCaul commented that they would "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."
All three bills include, as original co-sponsors, Science Committee Chair Sherwood Boehlert (R-NY); Space and Aeronautics Subcommittee Chair Ken Calvert (R-CA); Environment, Technology and Standards Subcommittee Chair Vernon Ehlers (R-MI); Energy Subcommittee Chair Judy Biggert (R-IL); Research Subcommittee Chair Bob Inglis (R-SC), and Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX).
H.R. 5358: THE SCIENCE AND MATHEMATICS EDUCATION FOR COMPETITIVENESS ACT: This bill would do the following:
(1) Expand NSF's Robert Noyce scholarship program, which provides scholarships to STEM undergraduates who commit to teaching after graduation, by increasing the minimum scholarship to $10,000 and allowing additional years of scholarship support. This program would be authorized at $50 million in FY 2007, increasing to $90 million for the fiscal years 2009 through 2011. (This program received an appropriation of $8.8 million in FY 2006; the FY 2007 request was $9.8 million.)
(2) Expand NSF's Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics Talent Expansion Program (STEP), which provides grants to higher education institutions to increase the number of STEM majors. This program would be authorized at $40 million in FY 2007, increasing to $50 million for the fiscal years 2009 through 2011. (This program received an appropriation of $25.6 million in FY 2006; the FY 2007 request was $26.1 million.)
(3) Narrow the focus of NSF's Math and Science Partnership Program to teacher improvement, renaming it the Science and Mathematics Teacher Training Partnerships and authorizing funding at $50 million for fiscal years 2007 through 2011. This program would provide grants, of between $75,000 and $2,000,000 per year, to partnerships including one or more local educational agencies and STEM departments at higher education institutions or eligible nonprofit organizations. (This program received an appropriation of $63.2 million in FY 2006; the FY 2007 request was $46.0 million.)
(4) Authorize an NSF grant program to enable STEM departments at higher education institutions to establish Centers for Undergraduate Education in Science, Mathematics, and Engineering, to improve the quality of undergraduate instruction in those fields and attract more students. Funding would be authorized at $4 million for FY 2007, increasing to $10 million for fiscal years 2008 through 2011.
(5) Ensure that at least 1.5 percent of funds appropriated for NSF Research and Related Activities be allocated to the Integrative Graduate Education and Research Traineeship program.
(6) Require the NSF Director to assess the impact of the Professional Science Master's degree at higher education institutions, and to asses the effectiveness of using a "broader impacts" criterion in evaluating NSF proposals.
(7) Authorize, at the Department of Energy, education programs in fields relevant to DOE's mission. These programs can include scholarships, fellowships, research experiences for undergraduates, and summer institutes for improving teachers' content knowledge.
H.R. 5356: THE EARLY CAREER RESEARCH ACT: This bill would authorize, at NSF and DOE, programs to award merit-reviewed, competitive grants to tenure-track science and engineering faculty in the early stages of their careers. The award amount would be at least $80,000 per year, for a duration of up to five years. For NSF, the bill would require that at least 3.5 percent of appropriated Research and Related Activities funding be allocated to this grant program, which could be run within the existing Faculty Early Career Development program. For DOE, the bill would authorize $25 million for each of the fiscal years 2007 through 2011.
This bill also asks for a report from NIST on its efforts to recruit and retain early-career scientists and engineers.
H.R. 5357: THE RESEARCH FOR COMPETITIVENESS ACT: This bill would authorize additional programs at NSF and DOE to award grants to early-career scientists and engineers for high-risk, high-return research in areas relevant to industry (and for the DOE awards, areas relevant to energy production, storage and use). The award amount would be $50,000 per year for up to five years, with an additional $50,000 available each year if the awardee raised matching funds from industry. Funding for the NSF grant program would be authorized at $3 million in FY 2007, increasing to $15 million by FY 2011. Funding for the DOE grant program would be authorized at $2 million in FY 2007, increasing to $10 million by FY 2011.