Science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education and workforce issues have been a hot topic on Capitol Hill this year. In recent weeks, as members of Congress and both political parties have sought to define their policy priorities in preparation for the November mid-term elections, a number of new STEM education measures have been introduced in the House of Representatives. Additionally, the House Science Committee has recently approved legislation introduced by committee members.
On 6 June 2006, the House Science Committee unanimously passed amended versions of HR 5356, "the Early Career Research Act," and HR 5358, "the Science and Mathematics Education for Competitiveness Act." These bills were introduced by Rep. McCaul (R-TX) and Schwartz (R-MI), respectively. Both measures emerged following the release of the National Academies report, "Rising Above the Gathering Storm," which called for additional investment in basic research, an added focus on STEM teacher training, and an increase in the number of U.S. STEM graduates.
As amended and approved by the committee, HR 5356 is now also known as the "Research for Competitiveness Act," and includes provisions from HR 5357 (also introduced by Rep. McCaul as the Research for Competitiveness Act). The measure would makes changes to several Department of Energy Office of Science and National Science Foundation programs with the goal of providing larger grant awards to early career investigators. Additionally, the legislation would authorize the NSF Major Research Instrumentation Program to make grants from $100,000 to $20,000,000. Moreover, these funds could be used to support the maintenance and operation of equipment acquired under the program. The legislation would authorize $94.2 million for the MRI program in fiscal year 2007, increasing to $123.4 million in fiscal year 2011.
Significantly, particularly after recent Senate language that would have set research priorities excluding the biological sciences, the version of HR 5356 approved by the Science Committee includes a new "Program to Foster Cross-Disciplinary Research." Under Section 9, the NSF would "award [competitive, merit-reviewed] grants for long-term, potentially path-breaking, basic research designed to simultaneously advance the physical and nonbiomedical life
sciences." Individuals, groups and centers would be eligible to receive these grants.
HR 5358 expresses support for the important role that the NSF plays in advancing STEM education and authorizes various education and training programs at the NSF. Among the issues included in this legislation are provisions refining the Robert Noyce Teacher Scholarship Program. The NSF Math and Science Partnerships program is renamed the School and University Partnerships for Science and Mathematics Education program. Significantly, the scope and focus of the program are not changed. Indeed, the new authorization would expand the scope of partnerships that could be funded. Included under the new provisions are: teacher training programs, programs to teach Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate science and math courses, and development of master's degree programs for science and math teachers. Sections are also included that would require the continuation of the NSF's Centers for Research on Learning and Education Improvement (Sec. 7), Undergraduate Education Programs (Sec. 8). Finally, in response to questions about NSF's education program assessments, Section 12 of HR 5358 would require NSF to assess its programs in ways that enable the effectiveness of NSF programs to be compared with that of education programs run by other federal agencies.
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