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FYI Number 146: December 10, 2001

Finish Line in Sight for Education Legislation

Reports indicate that the finish line may be in sight for both the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) and for the FY 2002 Labor-HHS-Education Appropriations bill, which funds programs within the Department of Education.

House and Senate conferees and staffers have been hard at work throughout the fall to reconcile the two chambers' competing versions of ESEA. This bill would authorize broad reforms to many K-12 programs within the Education Department, including establishing a competitive grant program called Math and Science Partnerships to let state education agencies, high-need local school districts, and university math, science and engineering departments partner together to improve science and math education.

Both the House and Senate have also passed their own versions of a Labor-HHS-Education Appropriations bill, but conferees for this legislation are hoping to see how the final ESEA bill would affect Education Department programs before agreeing upon FY 2002 funding levels.

There are indications that the ESEA conferees have now reached agreement on most issues in their bill, although special education funding remains a sticking point. According to reports, the conferees have agreed to authorize $450 million for the Math and Science Partnerships. In writing the bill language, ESEA conferees have apparently prepared for whatever funding level appropriators may provide: if the appropriation for the Partnerships program is less than $100 million, the money would be awarded in competitive grants by the Secretary of Education, directly to partnerships. If the appropriators provide $100 million or more, the money would be distributed to states by formula grant, and then the State Education Agencies would award competitive grants to partnerships.

According to reports on the bill language, the Partnerships would have to include a State Education Agency, a high-need Local Education Agency, and the science, math, or engineering department of a higher education institution. Other partners may include teacher training departments or other science, math or engineering departments, other local education agencies, public, private or charter schools, consortia of such schools, businesses, and relevant non-profit and for-profit groups.

Allowable activities for the Partnerships reportedly would include: developing curricula aligned with standards; promoting good teaching skills and methods; developing programs and incentives to encourage people to choose teaching careers in math or science; promoting exchanges between teachers and scientists, engineers and mathematicians; and developing teacher professional development opportunities, including mentoring programs, summer workshops or institutions with follow-up training, and identifying exemplary teachers. The final ESEA language would apparently allow states and local school districts to have some flexibility in the use of federal funds; they could choose to direct about half of their ESEA money (outside of Title I funds intended for low-income students) to uses other than the intended purpose. Some states and districts would be included in a demonstration project allowing them to waive all ESEA rules and requirements as long as they use the funds for purposes and activities within the scope of the bill.

The American Institute of Physics, the American Association of Physics Teachers, the Optical Society of America, and the American Physical Society are among a number of societies that have signed a letter, under the auspices of the K-12 Science, Mathematics, Engineering, and Technology Education Coalition, urging the Labor-HHS-Education appropriators to follow the guidance of the ESEA bill in funding the Math and Science Partnerships. The text of the letter follows:

"Dear Representative/Senator:

"As a member of the Labor, Health & Human Services and Education Conference Committee charged with reconciling differences between the House and Senate FY 2002 appropriations for the Department of Education, you will be called upon to make some difficult choices. We encourage you to consider the recommendations of the K-12 Coalition for Science, Math, Engineering and Technology (SMET) Education.

"We urge you to fund the Math and Science Partnerships in Title II, Part B, of H.R.1, the Elementary and Secondary Education Act reauthorization, at the $450 million level as agreed to by the Education Conferees.

"According to the 2000 National Assessment of Educational Progress, student science scores for grades 4 and 8 are flat and there has been a slight decline in scores for grade 12 since the assessment was last administered in 1996. This report further underscores the need for reform and investment in math and science education, particularly at a time when our economy, national security and technological advances are heavily dependent on the quality of our future workforce.

"The scientific, mathematic, engineering and technology community has long been concerned with the state of K-12 SMET education. To increase student learning in these areas, and enable the United States to compete globally with a strong, technologically literate workforce, we need to commit a significant amount of resources for SMET education now.

"Full funding of the Math and Science Partnerships will better prepare our students to meet the challenges of the 21st century. Thank you for considering our recommendations."

The ESEA conference committee is expected to meet tomorrow, and may be able to complete its conference report at that time.

Audrey T. Leath
Media and Government Relations Division
American Institute of Physics
(301) 209-3094

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