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Public Policy Report for 07/21/2003

  • House appropriations subcommittee approves 6.2% increase for NSF, includes funds for NEON
  • New coalition will push for increased funding for USGS
  • House passes FY2004 USGS appropriation
  • Creationism threatens Minnesota science standards: AIBS/NCSE launch list serve to combat threat
  • Teacher recruitment legislation approved by House

The AIBS Public Policy Report is distributed broadly by email every two weeks to AIBS membership leaders and contacts, including the President, President-Elect, Secretary, Treasurer, Executive Director, AIBS Council Representative, Journal Editor, Newsletter Editor, Public Policy Committee Chair, Public Policy Representative, and Education Committee Chair of all AIBS member societies and organizations (see the Membership Directories for contact information).

All material from these reports may be reproduced or forwarded. Please mention AIBS as the source; office staff appreciate receiving copies of materials used. If you have questions, comments, or suggestions, please contact the AIBS Director of Public Policy, Dr. Robert Gropp [publ...@aibs.org; 202-628-1500 x250].


HOUSE APPROPRIATIONS SUBCOMMITTEE APPROVES 6.2% INCREASE FOR NSF,
INCLUDES FUNDS FOR NEON

On June 15, the House Appropriations subcommittee on VA-HUD and
Independent Agencies approved draft legislation that funds, among
other programs, the National Science Foundation. Despite a steadily
increasing federal deficit, congressional appropriators provided NSF
with a healthy 6.2% ($329.1 million) increase to a total of $5.689
billion. (Note, however, that this total falls far short of the $6.39
billion authorized for FY2004 in last year's legislation that would
double the agency's budget.) Within that increase, the Research and
Related Activities Account (RRA) will grow from $4.056 billion to
$4.306 billion, a $249.9 million (6.2 percent) increase. Within RRA,
the Biological Sciences Directorate (BIO) continues to receive the
lowest percentage boost - 2.8% or $16.2 million over the FY03
appropriated level - to a total of $586.8 million. However, the
amount is above what the administration had proposed for FY04, which
would have resulted in a $9 million cut to BIO. Other directorates
received increases in the range of 3.6% - 13.8%.

Biology also received funding in the Major Research Equipment and
Facilities Construction (MREFC) account for the first time. The House
subcommittee approved the $12 million request for funding for two
prototype sites of the National Ecological Observatory Network
(NEON). While the funding is welcome news to many biologists, there
is some concern about language included in the appropriation which
stipulates that no more funding will be approved until a detailed
report is submitted by NSF: "The Committee's recommendation includes
$12 million for a demonstration of the National Ecological
Observatory Network (NEON) project as requested in the budget
submission. The Committee cautions NSF that this funding is provided
purely for two prototype sites to determine the scientific
requirements and optimum configuration of the network. Further,
before NSF deploys the two prototype stations and formulates future
budget requests for this project, NSF must identify and quantify
other Federal funding and observatory networks in order to avoid
redundancy of Federal research dollars and reduce the overall cost of
the NEON project. The Committee directs NSF to provide a preliminary
report to the Committee no later than 18 months from the enactment of
this legislation and a final report no later than 24 months after
enactment. The Committee will not entertain further budget requests
for NEON until the final report is submitted to the Committees on
Appropriations."

The full House Appropriations Committee is expected to mark up the
bill today. Any changes to funding levels or report language will be
reported on in the next issue of the AIBS Public Policy Report.


NEW COALITION WILL PUSH FOR INCREASED FUNDING FOR USGS

Since January 2003, the American Institute of Biological Sciences has
participated with other national organizations in a workgroup
spearheaded by the American Geological Institute to consider ways to
increase funding for the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS). These
workgroup activities have resulted in the establishment of the USGS
Coalition, an alliance of nearly 40 scientific and professional
organizations committed to the vitality of the unique combination of
biological, geological, hydrological and mapping programs at the
Department of Interior's USGS. As a science agency, USGS provides
independent, high-quality data, information, research support and
assessments needed by policymakers, researchers, educators, and the
public.

The Survey's Biological Resources Discipline (BRD) works with others
to provide the scientific understanding and technologies needed to
support management and conservation of biological resources. To this
end, BRD supports a number of national initiatives. Current
activities include: Biomonitoring of Environmental Status and Trends,
Bird Banding Laboratory, Gap Analysis Program, Global Change Research
Program, Geospatial Technology Program, Integrated Taxonomic
Information System, Land Use History of North America, National
Biological Information Infrastructure, National Water-Quality
Assessment Program, Nonindigenous Aquatic Species Program, NPFlora
and NPFauna databases, Science.gov, and USGS-NPS Vegetation Mapping
Program. Additionally, the USGS supports the Cooperative Research
Units Program. The 39 Cooperative Research Units housed at
universities across the United States are a collaborative effort
between the federal government, states, and a non-profit
organization. The units conduct research on renewable natural
resource questions, participate in the education of graduate
students, provide technical assistance, and provide continuing
education opportunities for natural resource professionals.

According to the USGS Coalition's fact sheet, during the past eight
years total federal spending for non-defense research and development
has risen from $37 billion to almost $55 billion in constant dollars.
However, the USGS' budget has remained nearly flat. Even this flat
funding for the USGS reflects Congress's rejection of White House
proposals to cut the USGS budget. In fiscal year 2003 appropriations
legislation, the House Appropriations Committee urged the
Administration to "continue to fund these critical science programs."
The Senate Appropriations Committee urged the Administration "to bear
in mind the expressed public support across the United States for the
Survey's programs."

The USGS Coalition has established a web site
(www.agiweb.org/USGSCoalition) that will include general information
about the Coalition, including member organizations.
The USGS Coalition is seeking additional organizations interested in
supporting its mission. Organizations interested in participating in
the Coalition should contact Dr. David Applegate at the American
Geological Institute (703-379-2480, ext. 228; applegate@agiweb.org).
AIBS member societies and organizations may also wish to contact Dr.
Robert Gropp in the AIBS Office of Public Policy for additional
information (202-628-1500, ext. 250; rgr...@aibs.org). Information
about the USGS is available at www.usgs.gov.


HOUSE PASSES FY 2004 USGS APPROPRIATION

On July 17th, the House of Representatives passed its version of the
fiscal year 2004 appropriation for the Department of Interior, H.R.
2691, by a vote of 268 to 152. The House would fund the USGS at
$935,660,000, an increase of $16,388,000 over the FY 2003 enacted
appropriation and $40,135,000 over the President's request for FY
2004. The House would provide a total of $173,349,000 for biological
activities, an increase of approximately $3.5 million over the 2003
appropriation and nearly $4.5 million more than the President's
request. More specifically, the House would provide $134,563,000 for
biological research and monitoring, just over $500,000 more than the
President's request and $2,430,000 over the FY 2003 appropriation.
Biological information management and delivery would receive
$24,397,000 or $3,697,000 over the President's request and $1,610,000
more than was appropriated for FY 2003. Of the increase for
information management and delivery, $3.9 million represents a
transfer of funds for from the biological research and monitoring
budget for the National Biological Information and Infrastructure
Program. The transfer is designed to increase management
efficiencies. The USGS Cooperative Research Units Program is slated
to receive $14,389,000 in FY 2004, an increase of $250,000 over the
President's request but $507,000 below the FY 2003 appropriation.

The Senate Appropriations Committee has drafted its version of the FY
2004 appropriation for USGS, S. 1391, but the full Senate has not yet
considered the legislation. The Senate Appropriations Committee has
proposed $169,580,000 for biological research, an amount of $235,000
below the FY 2003 level. The committee's overall recommendation for
biological activities is roughly $4,000,000 less than the House's
recommended funding level. Ultimately, differences between the House
and Senate versions have to be reconciled before the appropriation
may be sent to the President.


CREATIONISM THREATENS MINNESOTA SCIENCE STANDARDS: AIBS/NCSE LAUNCH
LIST SERVE TO COMBAT THREAT

In June 2003 Minnesota began the process of developing state science
standards for K-12 education. Minnesota's goal is to have science
standards in place in time for the 2004-05 academic year. Some
science education advocates warn that well-placed and active
advocates for intelligent design and creationism may negatively
affect Minnesota's standards process. The Minnesota Education
Commissioner selected the committee that will draft the standards.

Minnesota Education Commissioner Cheri Pierson Yecke, in an interview
with WCCO TV Channel 4 in Minnesota stated, "I believe that God
created the heavens and the Earth. I don't know how he did it."
Yecke hopes that "this [evolution] would not become a sticking point"
in the development of the science standards. In light of Yecke's
statements, Randy Moore, a biologist at the University of Minnesota
and editor of the journal American Biology Teacher, told WCCO that he
would not be surprised if political considerations influenced the
selection of members of the standards writing committee. In
response, Yecke stated, "let's see what happens when we put
the committee together." Yecke has requested clarification from the
U.S. Department of Education on the so-called Santorum Amendment to
the No Child Left Behind Act. Yecke is waiting to see if she
receives the same guidance provided to Ohio. Yecke seems optimistic
that teachings about a higher being may be able to be included
wherever the topic of biological evolution is covered. A recent
article by John Welbes of the Pioneer Press reports that "The group
writing Minnesota's new science standards won't be asked to choose
between teaching evolution or creationism, but it will get a
recommendation from the state's education commissioner that students
be exposed to differing views on the subject." Yecke has also
expressed a preference that issues related to evolution education be
left to the discretion of local school districts and teachers.

As part of the effort to ensure that scientists, educators, and other
concerned citizens are kept informed about the process, a list serve
has been established as part of the American Institute of Biological
Sciences (AIBS) and National Center for Science Education (NCSE)
State Evolution List Serve Network. Interested Minnesota residents
are encouraged to join the list serve. Information about the new
Minnesota list serve or other state evolution list serves in the
network may be obtained at http://www.aibs.org/outreach/evlist.html.


TEACHER RECRUITMENT LEGISLATION APPROVED BY HOUSE

On July 9, 2003, the U.S. House of Representatives passed two pieces
of legislation that members of Congress say will increase the number
of highly qualified public school teachers, including educators in
math and the sciences. The Senate must now approve both measures,
which have been referred to the Committee on Health, Education,
Labor, and Pensions.

H.R. 438, "The Teacher Recruitment and Retention Act," sponsored by
Rep. Joe Wilson (R-SC) passed the House with strong bipartisan
support. The legislation would provide up to $17,500 in loan
forgiveness to qualified math, science, reading and special education
teachers who commit to teach for five years in the public schools.
Speaking from the floor of the House of Representatives, Rep. Rush
Holt (D-NJ), one of two Ph.D. physicists in Congress, stated that
"loan forgiveness is one of the most effective incentives available"
to help ensure we have enough teachers. According to Rep. Vernon
Ehlers (R-MI), the House's other physicist, "If my colleagues ask why
we are graduating fewer people [in science, math and engineering], it
is because the sciences are not being taught properly in the K-12
system, and the reason is that many teachers, good hearted as they
are and try as they may, have not had the proper training and they
cannot do the job. So it is very important that we reward and attract
better-trained teachers to these positions and also give them the
tools to work with." Ehlers argued that the teacher shortage in
math and science is real, and cited statistics that indicate that "70
percent of our schools have vacancies in mathematics teachers; 61
percent have vacancies in biology or life sciences; and 51 percent
have vacancies in physical science."

By a vote of 404-17, the House of Representatives also passed H.R.
2211, the "Ready to Teach Act of 2003." The Ready to Teach Act (RTA)
would revise and reauthorize teacher quality provisions in the Higher
Education Act of 1965 and establish new Centers of Excellence for
recruiting and preparing "highly qualified" teachers for K-12
classrooms. Under RTA, states would be allowed to receive multiple
grants for teacher training and new programs, including charter
colleges of education and university and local educational
partnership schools. Grants could be used to increase the
flexibility of teacher preparation programs to better meet state
requirements, generate long term data on teacher impact on student
achievement, provide high quality preparation to individuals from
underrepresented groups, and create measures to gauge the performance
of teacher preparation programs. States would be able to use
Department of Education grant funds to document student achievement
gains and teacher mastery of subjects taught as a result of the
programs conducted under grants. RTA would also revise provisions of
the Department of Education's partnership grant program such that
public or private education organizations are included among the
required entities in an eligible partnership, and would require that
a "high need" local education agency benefit from at least 50 percent
of a partnership's grant funding. Teacher preparation partnerships
would require programs prepare educators who are highly qualified and
"able to understand scientifically based research and its
applicability." Partnership funds would also support professional
development, alternatives to traditional teacher preparation and
state certification, clinical experience in mathematics and science
for current teachers, and coordination with community colleges to
implement teacher preparation programs through means such as distance
learning. Priority would be given to grant applicants that
articulate how the applicant would assure the recruitment of a high
percentage of minorities, and employees from technology industries
and other high-demand sectors, which include science, mathematics and
engineering. New Centers of Excellence would be established for
recruiting and preparing highly qualified teachers for the K-12
classroom. Centers would be established at higher education
institutions serving minorities.

In related news, on July 17 the General Accounting Office (GAO)
released a report, "No Child Left Behind: More Information Would Help
States Determine Which Teachers Are Highly Qualified" (Report number:
GAO-03-631). In brief, the GAO learned they "could not develop
reliable data on the number of highly qualified teachers" because
states did not have the information needed to determine whether all
teachers met the criteria. State and district officials that
responded to the GAO survey noted a number of conditions that hinder
the recruitment and retention of highly qualified teachers, among
these are low salaries, lack of incentive pay, and teacher shortages.
Little support for new teachers was noted as a significant hindrance
to high-poverty school districts, while rural school districts point
to their size and isolated locations as significant barriers to
teacher recruitment and retention. State education officials
indicated they plan to spend 65 percent of their Title II funds on
professional development activities, and school district officials
plan to spend an estimated 66 percent on recruitment and retention.
Both state and local officials expect to spend substantially more
resources on recruitment and retention from non-Title II funds.



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The American Institute of Biological Sciences is a nonprofit 501(c)(3) scientific association headquartered in Washington DC, with a staff of approximately 30. It was founded in 1947 as a part of the National Academy of Sciences and has been an independent organization since the mid-1950s, governed by a Board of Directors elected by its membership. The AIBS membership consists of approximately 6,000 biologists and 80 professional societies and other organizations; the combined individual membership of the latter exceeds 240,000 biologists. AIBS is an umbrella organization for the biological sciences dedicated to promoting an understanding of the natural living world, including the human species and its welfare, by engaging in coalition activities with its members in research, education, public policy, and public outreach; publishing the peer-reviewed journal, BioScience; providing scientific peer review and advisory services to government agencies and other clients; convening scientific meetings; and performing administrative and other support services for its member organizations.


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