Committee on Science and Technology
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Press Releases :: June 7, 2006

Democrats Significantly Improve and Support House Competitiveness Legislation

Bipartisan Drought Legislation Also Advances

The U.S. House Committee on Science today advanced legislation aimed at spurring global competitiveness and improving science and math education.  Committee Democrats were successful in shaping the legislation to address the key recommendations of a National Academy of Sciences (NAS) report entitled Rising Above the Gathering Storm.  That influential report was issued last fall and warned the U.S. could fall behind our global counterparts without immediate action.

The education bill approved by the Committee today (H.R. 5358 substitute) places responsibility for administering the programs with the National Science Foundation (NSF) - thereby emphasizing the Committee’s insistence that the Foundation have a major role in competitiveness initiatives to improve math and science education.

"The substitute legislation to H.R. 5356 and H.R. 5358, which I have cosponsored, meld provisions from the majority’s bills and my bipartisan bills, H.R.4434 and H.R. 4596," said Ranking Member Rep. Bart Gordon (D-TN).  "I want to thank the Chairman and other Members of the Majority for working with me to improve both the scope and funding levels authorized in the manager’s amendments so that they are more in-line with National Academy report."

Rep. Gordon and Science Committee Democrats introduced legislation last fall to act upon the recommendations of the NAS report.  That legislative package included H.R. 4434, 10,000 Teachers, 10 Million Minds Science and Math Scholarship Act, H.R. 4435, Advanced Research Projects Agency - Energy (ARPA-E) Act, and H.R. 4596, Sowing the Seeds Through Science and Engineering Research Act. 

With the Democrats changes included, the bill passed by Committee (H.R. 5358) will implement the top priority of the Academies’ report, which is to put in place effective teacher training programs for new and in-service science and math teachers. 

"To successfully maintain our leadership in math and science, this country needs teachers who will devote their professional career to teaching these subjects, not just a few years out of college," added Rep. Doris Matsui (D-CA) whose amendment to assess the effectiveness of activities under the Noyce scholarship program was accepted.  "This amendment will allow us to see how successful the redesigned and expanded Noyce Teacher Scholarship is at producing such truly committed individuals.  I appreciate the committee’s support in accepting my amendment and applaud the members’ spirit of bipartisanship in addressing the critical issue of our nation’s long-term competitiveness."

The modifications to the Noyce scholarship program included in the legislation will spur reform to change the way colleges and universities educate new science and math teachers.  Teachers who emerge from the program will combine deep knowledge of their subject with expertise in the most effective practices for teaching science or math.  The new teachers will also receive mentoring and support during the critical early years of their teaching careers, when teacher attrition is known to be high.  This program is authorized at a level that would enable it to meet the goal of producing 10,000 highly qualified science and math teachers each year within the President’s goal of doubling the NSF budget.

"With the general uncertainty about our country’s future economic prospects, we need to act promptly," added Rep. Gordon.  "At a recent subcommittee hearing with NIST’s three Nobel Prize winners, all three agreed that we need to increase our investment in basic research and to improve K-12 science and math education.  The Gathering Storm report states that ‘laying the foundation for a scientifically literate workforce begins with developing outstanding K-12 teachers in science and mathematics.’  I believe the report got it exactly right and has identified teachers as the first priority."

In a joint letter sent to House Appropriators following the markup Chairman Boehlert and Ranking Member Gordon urged funding for NSF at the level necessary for achieving improvements in K-12 and undergraduate science and math education:

"We strongly support the proposal to increase the NSF budget as part of the President’s American Competitiveness Initiative.  But if that Initiative is to do as much as possible to bolster the nation’s competitiveness, it must benefit NSF’s education programs as well as the Foundation’s research programs, and it must enhance education programs at NSF as well as at the Department of Education.  Therefore, we hope that during this appropriations cycle you will provide additional funding for NSF’s education programs, including those authorized by H.R. 5358."

Democratic Amendments to H.R. 5356 offered at today’s mark-up include:

Miller (NC) – Pre-competitive Research Program - Establishes a grant program at NSF for awards to universities for pre-competitive technology transfer centers to facilitate transfer of research results to commercial applications.  Grants may be used for establishing proof-of-concept, technology feasibility studies, market assessments and business plans, and development and testing of prototypes.  Mr. Miller withdrew the amendment upon assurances that the Committee would continue work on this area.

Democratic Amendments to H.R. 5358 offered at today’s mark-up include:

Matsui (CA) – Program Assessment - Requires NSF to assess the effectiveness of activities under the Noyce teacher education program to promote the retention of science and math teachers.  The amendment was accepted by voice vote.

Johnson (TX) – High School Science Lab Program - Establishes a grant program at NSF for high-need local education agencies that establish partnerships with a college or university, and a business or education agency or private sector organization to support science lab improvement in secondary schools, including support for instrumentation.  The grants are for 3 years and must have 2/3 cost sharing from non-Federal sources; authorizes $3 million.  Ms. Johnson withdrew the amendment.

Also considered and approved at today’s mark-up was H.R. 5136, the National Integrated Drought Information System Act of 2006, legislation developed jointly by Rep. Mark Udall (D-CO) and Rep. Ralph Hall (R-TX).  The legislation authorizes a total of $94 million through fiscal 2012 to enhance and operate the National Integration Drought Information System (NIDIS) at NOAA. 

According to NOAA, drought is estimated to result in average economic annual losses of $6 to $8 billion in the U.S. and in one particularly severe drought caused more than $62 billion (in 2005 dollars) of economic losses. 

"There is no doubt that drought has extremely harmful affects on our economy, however it is not always addressed as a natural disaster because it is slow to develop," stated Rep. Udall.  "This legislation will coordinate U.S. efforts to combat this natural disaster and improve the federal government’s efforts to mitigate and reduce the effects of drought."

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