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Public Policy Report for 1/17/2001

EHLERS' SCIENCE EDUCATION BILLS LEAD OFF THE 107th CONGRESS HR 100 - Representative Vernon Ehlers (R-MI) has reintroduced his three-pack of science education bills. The bills have seven co-sponsors, but have not yet been introduced in the Senate.

The National Science Education Act (H.R.100), would amend the National Science Foundation Act of 1950 to establish and expand programs relating to science, mathematics, engineering, and technology education. Key features of the bill include the establishment of grants programs for State or local educational agencies (SEAs or LEAs) or private elementary or middle schools to hire master teachers as well as competitive grants to secondary school and college students working with university faculty, software developers, and experts in educational technology, or to such faculty, developers, and experts working with such students, to develop high-quality educational software and Internet web sites. It would also create an NSF working group to review and coordinate regular and supplemental curricula in kindergarten through the 12th grade for science, mathematics, engineering, and technology. The NSF director would also make demonstration project grants to eligible LEAS to develop an information technology program that builds or expands mathematics, science, and information technology curricula; (2) purchase equipment necessary to establish such program; and (3) provide professional development in such fields. The bill would also have the NSF and the Department of Education compile and disseminate information on: (1) standard prerequisites for middle school and high school students who seek to enter a course of study at an institution of higher education in science, mathematics, engineering, or technology education for purposes of teaching in an elementary or secondary school; and (2) the licensing requirements in each State for science, mathematics, engineering, or technology elementary or secondary school teachers. The National Academy of Sciences would compile and evaluate studies on the effectiveness of technology in the classroom on learning and student performance, as measured by State standardized tests. Authorizes appropriations to NSF for such study-evaluation.

The National Science Education Enhancement Act (H.R.101) would amend the Elementary and Secondary Education of 1967 to include support for mentoring activities for science, mathematics, engineering, and technology teachers, primarily through teacher professional development grants and summer professional development institutes and by requiring mentoring for novice teachers. It would revise ESEA to require that funds for the Eisenhower Clearinghouse be used to: (1) solicit and gather qualitative and evaluative materials and programs, review their evaluation, rank their effectiveness, and distribute results of reviews, as well as excerpts of materials and links to Internet sites and information on on-line communities of users to teachers; and (2) establish an Internet site offering a search mechanism to assist site visitors in identifying information on science, mathematics, engineering, and technology education instructional materials and programs, including electronic links to information on classroom demonstrations and experiments, teachers who have used materials or participated in programs, vendors, curricula, and textbooks. Evaluation of mentoring programs would be conducted by the National Academy of Sciences.

H.R.101 also directs the Secretary of Commerce to study: (1) the feasibility and effectiveness of various incentives, including tax credits, for businesses to provide personnel with regular compensation for time spent as volunteers engaged in the technological training of teachers and facilities for such training; (2) alternative methods of providing financial support, through income tax credits, loan forgiveness, or otherwise, to individuals seeking training or retraining in mathematics, science, and technology education; (3) the effectiveness of higher education institutions in training teachers who can use technology and integrate it into lesson plans, curricula, and distance learning; (4) methods to coordinate working alliances at various levels of government between the business and academic community; and (5) other means of improving the efficiency of the technological training of teachers.

Tax incentives to college students to become science, engineering, math, or technology teachers would be created under H.R. 102. Teachers who qualified could receive a limited credit for undergraduate tuition or for certain contributions of property or service to qualified elementary and secondary schools.

EHLERS PROPOSES BILL TO PROVIDE FOR ESTABLISHMENT OF POSITION OF DEPUTY ADMINISTRATOR FOR SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY OF THE ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY - Congressman Ehlers has also proposed legislation to create a position at the EPA for a Deputy Administrator for Science and Technology. The National Resources Council, in its June 2000 report - Strengthening Science at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency: Research-Management and Peer-Review Practices recommended this measure to coordinate and oversee agency-wide scientific policy, peer review, and quality assurance. NRC noted that the coordination provided by the Office of Research and Development is not sufficient to improve the scientific practices and performances throughout the agency.

SUPREME COURT LIMITS ABILITY OF EPA TO REGULATE "ISOLATED" WETLANDS - On 9 January 2001, in a 5-4 vote, the U.S. Supreme Court invalidated the "migratory bird rule" used by the Environmental Protection Agency and the Army Corps of Engineers to claim jurisdiction over isolated wetlands under the Clean Water Act. In the case of Solid Waste Agency of Northern Cook County v. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Supreme Court overruled two federal circuit court decisions that had upheld the EPA/Corps rule.

The Clean Water Act applies to navigable bodies of water or to isolated wetlands whose "use, degradation, or destruction could affect interstate commerce." The Corps claimed that migratory birds, which use these isolated wetlands, affect interstate commerce because people spend more than a billion dollars on hunting, trapping, and observing migratory birds. Again, two lower courts had upheld that view.

In the current case, a waste management district wanted to use an abandoned gravel pit as a landfill site. The Corps denied the permit, based on the "migratory bird rule." The Solid Waste Agency alleged that the Corps' interpretation of the rule pertaining to interstate commerce (particularly, the "migratory bird rule") is not consistent with Congressional intent and that even if it is, then Congress exceeded its Constitutional authority under the interstate commerce clause to regulate activities that affect interstate commerce.

Chief Justice William Rehnquist, writing the majority opinion, called the ponds a "far cry'' from the kind of large or navigable bodies of water that Congress intended to protect. Likewise, a 1986 refinement of the environmental law that deals specifically with the needs of migratory birds does not give the federal government control over the ponds, he added. ``Permitting the (government) to claim federal jurisdiction over ponds and mudflats,'' such as those in the Illinois case, ``would also result in a significant impingement of the states' traditional and primary power over land and water use,'' Rehnquist wrote. Justices Scalia, Thomas, Kennedy, and O'Connor joined the majority opinion. Justices Souter, Breyer, Ginsburg, and Stevens dissented.

FINAL RULE ON FEDERAL GOVERNMENT-UNIVERSITY RESEARCH PARTNERSHIP ANNOUNCED - By Executive Order 13185, dated 28 December 2000, the Clinton Administration issued the final version of its policy regarding the federal government-university research partnership. The Order affirms the principals of the partnership as set out in the April 1999 report issued by the National Science and Technology Council. That report, Renewing the Federal Government-University Research Partnership for the 21st Century can be found at; the full text of the Executive Order can be found at The Executive Order directs the Office of Science and Technology to review the state of the partnership regularly. The Office of Management and Budget has issued a memorandum that clarifies two issues in OMB Circular A-21, "Cost Principles for Educational Institutions." Specifically, the memorandum clarifies the cost accounting requirements for certain types of researcher effort, and clarifies the criteria for allowing tuition remission costs under Federal grants or contracts.

The National Science and Technology Council on 10 January 2001 released its report that details specific steps to revitalize this essential partnership. The report, Implementing the NSTC Presidential Review Directive-4: Renewing the Federal Government-University Research Partnership for the 21st Century, calls for actions to address the three main recommendations for improvement made in the review:

1. To establish a common set of principles, guiding and operating, that articulate the framework for the development of Federal policies related to the government-university research partnership.

2. To reaffirm the importance of the integration of research and education (i.e., the dual role of students) and the principle of merit review in awarding research funds.

3. To streamline the administrative requirements for the conduct of research at universities.

The report endorses ongoing efforts to create a common face for electronic administration of Federal grants and contracts. It also supports ongoing efforts by interagency teams to reduce or streamline requirements to file legal "certifications" or "assurances" with Federal grants and contracts. The report recommends that agencies consider adopting practices, such as those recently adopted by the National Science Foundation, to make cost sharing requirements clear to all prospective recipients before soliciting Federal grants or contracts. Finally, the report affirms the responsibility to conduct research in a way protective of the environment, but also endorses efforts underway through the National Institutes of Health to streamline the associated regulatory burden. The full report can be found at <>.

EXECUTIVE ORDER OUTLINES RESPONSIBILITIES OF FEDERAL AGENCIES TO PROTECT BIRDS, BIRD HABITAT - On 10 January 2001, President Clinton signed an Executive Order outlining the responsibilities of federal agencies to protect migratory birds. The Executive Order resulted from several years of effort by numerous conservation organizations that were concerned about two federal court cases holding that the Migratory Bird Treaty Act does not apply to federal agencies. A subsequent U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director's Order implementing those two decisions was further cause for concern.

The Executive Order directs the Secretary of the Interior to establish an interagency Council for the Conservation of Migratory Birds (Council) to oversee the implementation of the order. The Council's duties are to: share the latest resource information to assist in the conservation and management of migratory birds; (2) develop an annual report of accomplishments and recommendations related to this order; (3) foster partnerships to further the goals of this order; and (4) select an annual recipient of a Presidential Migratory Bird Federal Stewardship Award for contributions to the protection of migratory birds.

The Executive Order does not expressly state that the Migratory Bird Treaty Act is applicable to the federal government. Instead, it cites all the laws that are intended to further bird conservation in the U.S. - the MBTA, the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act, the Fish and Wildlife Coordination Act, the National Environmental Policy Act, and the Endangered Species Act - as support for the premise that federal agencies are required to consider the effects of their actions on birds. The device used to promote this responsibility takes the form of a required Memorandum of Understanding between each federal agency whose actions have, or are likely to have, a measurable negative effect on migratory bird populations, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The MOUs, which will be published for comment in the Federal Register and which must be completed within 2 years, are intended to establish agency policies and procedures that will (to the extent permitted by law and subject to the availability of appropriations and within Administration budgetary limits, and in harmony with agency missions) support the conservation intent of the migratory bird conventions by integration bird conservation principles, measures, and practices into agency activities and by avoiding or minimizing, to the extent practicable, adverse impacts on migratory bird resources when conducting agency actions. The 14 specific action items include restoration and enhancement of migratory bird habitat, prevention or abatement of pollution or detrimental alteration of bird habitat, and incorporation of migratory bird habitat and population conservation principles into agency plans and planning processes, including, but not limited to, forest and rangeland planning, coastal management planning, watershed planning, etc.) as practicable.

Federal agencies are also directed to ensure that agency plans and actions promote programs and recommendations of comprehensive migratory bird planning efforts such as Partners-in-Flight, U.S. National Shorebird Plan, North American Waterfowl Management Plan, North American Colonial Waterbird Plan, and other planning efforts, as well as guidance from other sources, including the Food and Agricultural Organization's International Plan of Action for Reducing Incidental Catch of Seabirds in Longline Fisheries. Agencies must also minimize the intentional take of species of concern and, where unintentional take resulting from agency actions is having, or is likely to have, a measurable negative effect on migratory bird populations, the agency must attempt to minimize the take. Agencies will also have to inventory and monitor bird habitat and populations within the agency's capabilities and authorities to the extent feasible to facilitate decisions about the need for, and effectiveness of, conservation efforts.

It is not known if the Bush administration will retain this Executive Order and pursue this policy and these actions. The Bush administration has stated that it, like all new administrations, will review the Executive Orders of prior administrations and will take such action as it feels appropriate.

NEW KANSAS SCHOOL BOARD RESTORES EVOLUTION TO STATE SCIENCE STANDARDS - A newly elected Kansas Board of Education decided on 9 January to move forward to restore evolution to state science curricula. Final approval is expected at a Feb.13-14 meeting. It is expected that the revised standards will be accepted by at least seven members of the ten-member board. The new science standards would replace those adopted in August 1999 that omitted references to many evolutionary concepts. The Kansas City Star opined in a January 13 editorial that this reversal also signals that the state board will rely once again on professionals in education and research in making policy decisions. The standards to be considered by the board at its February meeting were written by a 27-member committee of science teachers and professors.


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