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Public Policy Report for 4/18/2000

Congressman Ehlers proposes package of science education legislation Congressman Vernon Ehlers (R-MI), Vice Chairman of the House Science Committee, has introduced a three-pack of science education bills aimed at reforming our nation's K-12 science, mathematics, engineering, and technology education. The bills are the National Science Education Act, the National Science Education Enhancement Act, and the National Science Education Incentive Act.

NSEA provides grants to public and private schools for Master Teachers with strong math and science backgrounds to assist K-8 teachers with professional development and support for the use of hands-on science materials. It also specifies that NSF award grants for teacher professional development in technology use and integration and creates a national scholarship to reward teach participation in science, math, engineering, or technology research. It establishes a mechanism to inform high school students of the courses needed to prepare for college in order to pursue a career in science, math, engineering, or technology education. Other features of NSEA include a working group to identify excellence in content, scope, and sequence of K-12 science, math, engineering, and technology program and make the information available via the internet and bolsters distance learning for rural students.

NSEEA concentrates on improving and expanding the activities of the Department of Education that focus on science, math, engineering, and technology education through devices such as mentors for novice teachers, peer-reviewed quality summer professional development institutes, technology training for teachers, and work-study credits for college students to train or tutor K-12 teachers in technology.

Finally, the NSEIA enhances the Eisenhower National Clearinghouse to include program evaluations to enable teachers to choose among the teaching materials already available, establishes after-school science day care programs, and expand provisions in the tax code to encourage activities such as the inclusion of teachers in training programs offered by private companies or college tuition tax credits.

The Ehlers bills are the latest of a number of education bills emanating from the effort to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). Senator Jim Jeffords (R-VT) version, S.2, was passed by the Senate Health, Education, Labor & Pensions Committee on 9 March 2000. S.2 originally included the Eisenhower Professional Development Program, created by 1985 legislation to distribute funds to states and school districts solely for the purpose of teacher enhancement in math and science. In addition, the Eisenhower National Clearinghouse for Mathematics and Science Education is a permanent repository of instructional materials and programs to be used in elementary and secondary schools. However, the Eisenhower provision was stripped from the bill by the committee, despite efforts by the minority to restore it. The House has passed three bills reauthorizing ESEA and addressing various K-12 education issues. All three would allow the use of the Eisenhower funds for purposes other than math and science education.

AIBS participates in a coalition of science, math, engineering, and technology organizations known as the K-12SMET, which recently developed an intersociety statement urging federal policymakers to make improved student learning in elementary and secondary science, mathematics, and technology education a national priority. After review by the public policy committee, AIBS joined 22 other organizations, including AAAS, in signing onto this statement. Copies have been distributed by the coalition to all members of Congress. Please contact for a copy of the statement.

USGS Listening Session On April 3, 2000, the U.S. Geological Survey held a "Conversation with Customers" during which stakeholders could provide input on the agency's Fiscal Year (FY) 2002 budget request. The stated purpose was "looking at opportunities for growing our programs in new or enhanced ways...building on the strengths of what has been successful and what we do well, while at the same time seeking out the science challenges of tomorrow." AIBS Public Policy representative Ellen Paul participated in this session and suggested that USGS needs a strong Biological Resources Division to achieve its goal of integrated science. The BRD Science Center funding has been a focus of concern for AIBS and other scientific, wildlife management, and conservation organizations since the National Biological Survey was transferred to USGS in 1995.

Congressional Visits Day - Three intrepid biologists from the AIBS membership, Linda Kohn, President of the Mycological Society of America, David Geiser, a mycologist and plant pathologist from Penn State University, and L. Anathea Brooks, a conservation biologist and consultant who assists in the collection and identification of fungi in the Great Smoky National Park's All Taxa Biotic Inventory joined AIBS staff at the Fifth Annual Congressional Visits Day on 4 and 5 April 2000. (Three other biologists who had planned to attend were unable to do so). CVD is organized by the Science-Engineering-Technology Work Group, one of several coalitions of scientific organizations in which AIBS participates (see the CVD website at

The message conveyed by this year's 250 participating scientists representing a wide range of disciplines was the need for a balanced research portfolio. As Al Teich, AAAS Director of Science and Policy Programs demonstrated, substantial increases in biomedical research funding and technology funding over the past decade have contributed to the rapid advancement in those fields, but funding for the non-biomedical life sciences and physical sciences has remained flat during that same time. Participants also asked their representatives to co-sponsor H.R.3161, the Federal Research Investment Act (also known as the "Doubling Bill" because it would double federal funding for science and technology research). Participants were briefed by Administration officials, including Neal Lane, the President's Science Advisor, and Rita Colwell, Director of the National Science Foundation. A panel of Congressional staffers offered perspectives on prospects for Congressional funding levels for science and the various education bills before Congress. Elizabeth Prostic, a staffer on the Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Science, Technology, and Space, noted that high technology interests are always coming to Congress with their concerns, but that there doesn't seem to be an organized effort for K-12 science and math education. The first day was capped off by a reception at which Senators Jay Rockefeller IV (D-WVA) and Bill Frist ( (R-TN) were honored with the George E. Brown Jr. Science-Engineering-Technology Leadership Award. On the second day of the event, participants visited their own Congressional delegations to encourage them to fund a balanced portfolio of science, math, engineering, and technology research through the annual appropriations process and the Doubling Bill.

Genetically Modified Organisms The National Academy of Sciences National Research Council released its report on genetically modified organisms on April 5, 2000, emphasizing that it was not aware of any evidence suggesting foods on the market today are unsafe to eat as a result of genetic modification. And it said that no strict distinction exists between the health and environmental risks posed by plants genetically engineered through modern molecular techniques and those modified by conventional breeding practices. The committee called on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. Department of Agriculture, and Food and Drug Administration to quickly come to an agreement on each agency's role in regulating plants that have been genetically modified to resist pests. It also said that any new rules should be flexible so they can easily be updated to reflect improved scientific understanding.

Congressman Nick Smith, Chair of the House Science Basic Research Subcommittee, released that subcommittee's report "Seeds of Opportunity: An Assessment of the Benefits, Safety, and Oversight of Plants Genomics and Agricultural Biotechnology" on April 13,2000. The report, Seeds of Opportunity, available online at, reaches a conclusion similar to the NRC report in saying that there is no significant difference between plant varieties created using agricultural biotechnology and those created using traditional crossbreeding and selective breeding. It recommends that USDA and EPA emulate the FDA by focusing their regulations on the characteristics of a plant rather than the process used to develop it. The report summarizes a series of hearing held by the Basic Research Subcommittee of the House Committee on Science in 1999. Among the six recommendations made in the report are adequate funding for the National Plant Genome Initiative and a suggestion that the Administration, industry, and the scientific community have an obligation to educate the public and improve the availability of information on the long record of safe use of agricultural biotechnology products.

National Science and Technology Council report on science, engineering, and technology workforce for the 21st century - On April 11,2000, the President's cabinet-level advisory group on science and technology known as the National Science and Technology Council released its report, Ensuring a Strong U.S. Scientific, Engineering, and Technical Workforce in the 21st Century. The principal conclusion of the report, which focuses primarily on post-secondary education, is that "it is imperative that members of all ethnic and gender groups participate at increasing rates if a strong science, engineering, and technology workforce is to be ensured." NSTC recommends that federal agencies examine how their programs can encourage greater participation of all ethnic and gender groups, continue to support research on barriers to full participation of under-represented groups, emphasize recruitment and retention of qualified individuals currently under-represented in the workforce and vigorously pursue professional development opportunities for those already in the federal workforce, and that the federal government should establish and maintain a website that provides information on science, technology, and engineering workforce-related programs. The report is available online at


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