Rep. Vern Ehlers Introduces Bills to Improve Science Education "Teachers provide the essential connection between students and the content they are learning. Thus, high quality teachers must be identified, recruited, and retained in every school district throughout the Nation." -- Rep. Vern Ehlers (R-MI)
A main priority of Rep. Vern Ehlers (R-MI) in the past year has been addressing the quality of science education in the country. In particular, Ehlers, vice chairman of the House Science Committee and a physicist and physics educator before coming to Congress, has been seeking ways to improve the recruitment, preparation, and retention of good science and math teachers in the nation's schools. At a press conference yesterday he introduced three bills that address these concerns. "These bills are a first step in a long process to ensure that teachers are provided the necessary training and skills to teach these subjects and that students are provided with the best possible learning curricula and environment," Ehlers announced. "My bills are a step in that direction."
The bills target three different aspects of federal involvement in science and math education. The National Science Education Act (NSEA) "focuses on improving and expanding the activities of the National Science Foundation." The National Science Education Enhancement Act (NSEEA) affects programs within the Department of Education "that focus on science, math, engineering and technology education," and the National Science Education Incentive Act (NSEIA) makes changes to the tax code "that will benefit science, math, engineering and technology education."
Ehlers was joined at the press conference by Nobel Laureate Leon Lederman (by teleconference), representatives of industry and government, teachers and students. Also present were the Ranking Minority Member of the House Science Subcommittee on Basic Research, Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX), and Rep. Sherwood Boehlert (R-NY), who could replace James Sensenbrenner (R-WI) as chairman of the full Science Committee next year if the Republicans retain control of the House. Johnson was pleased by Ehlers' efforts at bipartisanship and that his legislation incorporates portions of bills she introduced previously; Boehlert was very supportive of the bills but warned that Congress cannot just "talk the talk," but must "walk the walk" by providing funding for the bills' provisions.
It is important to remember that these are authorization, not appropriations, bills, and therefore do not make any money available for the programs they create. Questioned about the cost of the programs in his bills, Ehlers said the bills "do not mention specific amounts," but their total cost "pales into insignificance" compared to the amount spent annually by the federal government on education (which is about 7 percent of all public and private funding spent on education in this country.)
The bills covering NSF and the Education Department would call for a number of new grants and programs as well as enhancing current efforts, while the National Science Education Incentive Act would expand provisions in the tax code. While a major goal of many Republicans has been to reduce or eliminate federal education programs by providing blocks of funding to the states with no requirements, Boehlert stated that Ehlers' efforts had the support of the Republican leadership. He added that it would be helpful if Members "heard from their constituents that more emphasis needs to be placed on K-12 education." In written materials accompanying the bills, Ehlers also addressed the role of the federal government in education: "K-12 education in the United States is primarily the charge of local and State governments. The Federal Government plays a role in certain efforts, especially as an impetus to change.... Thus, although State efforts are tailored to meet the needs and preferences of the individual locality, there are threads of commonality inspired by federal actions."
A future FYI will summarize the provisions in the bills. The full text of all three bills, as well as supplemental materials, can be found on Ehlers' web site at: http://www.house.gov/ehlers/issues/science/
Audrey T. Leath