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FYI Number 2: January 4, 2002

House Floor Discussion on Funding for Science Education

Conferees on the FY 2002 Labor-HHS-Education appropriations bill (H.R. 3061) provided substantially less targeted funding than last year for enhancing science and math education, as was reported in previous FYIs. In the conference report, however, conferees encouraged states to continue their current level of effort to improve science and math instruction by making use of funds available for improving overall teacher quality. When the conference report came before the House floor for a vote on December 19, Representatives Vernon Ehlers (R-MI) and Rush Holt (D-NJ) - the two physicists in Congress - sought clarification from House Labor-HHS-Education Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Ralph Regula (R-OH) that science and math instruction was an important priority of the conferees. Selected portions of the floor discussion are quoted below:

HOLT: "Mr. Speaker, someone who casually observes the education part of this bill might think we will be spending less on math and science teacher programs this year than last, and as the United States falls increasingly behind the rest of the world in math and science performance, we need to pay attention to this area. The conference report states, 'The conferees believe that providing high-quality math and science instruction is of critical importance to our Nation's future competitiveness, and agree that math and science professional development opportunities should be expanded.' It is my understanding from this that it is the intention of the committee that no less money than last year be spent on teacher training for math and science; is this correct?"

REGULA: "Mr. Speaker, that is correct. I would assure the gentleman...we consider math and science teacher training to be an important part of preparing our students for the future. I assure my colleague that the conferees have provided adequate funding to allow the same or even increased effort in science and math teacher training. The conferees intend that, at a minimum, the current level of effort in science and math development be maintained."

Rep. Ehlers then continued the discussion with Chairman Regula:

EHLERS: "Over the past few months, much attention has been placed on the poor state of our Nation's K-12 math and science education. International tests place our students in the bottom third of industrialized nations in their performance in science, and dead last among those nations in high school physics.

"The 2000 NAEP [National Assessment of Education Progress] results recently announced found no improvement in science literacy in the 4th and 8th grades, and a decline in science performance in grade 12 since 1996. This is simply unacceptable. Our country desperately needs more people trained in math and science. Over the past few years, I have advocated improving our Nation's science education programs and increasing the Federal funding for professional development for our Nation's math and science teachers.

"Mr. Speaker, this bill consolidates funding for the Eisenhower program, which was the primary professional development program for math and science teachers, into the Title II Teacher Quality Grant program, which will receive an appropriation of $2.85 billion. The conference report states that as much as $375 million was actually expended on math and science in fiscal year 2001, and that the conferees therefore strongly urge the Secretary [of Education] and the States to continue to fund math and science activities within the Teacher Quality Grant program at a comparable level in fiscal year 2002. ...[I]t is my understanding that the intention of the conferees is that no less than $375 million be expended on math and science professional development in fiscal year 2001; is that correct?"

Regula responded as follows:

REGULA: "Mr. Speaker, the answer is the gentleman is substantially correct. The report language does state that States should spend a comparable level on math and science professional development as was spent in fiscal year 2001. The conferees consider math and science education vitally important to our Nation's future competitiveness and believe that such spending should be enhanced in the future."

EHLERS: "Mr. Speaker, if I may continue, the bill allocates only $12.5 million for the newly created Math and Science Partnership program. The conference report states that the conferees strongly urge the Secretary and States to utilize funding provided by the Teacher Quality Grant program, as well as other programs provided by the Federal Government, to strengthen math and science education programs across the Nation.... [I]t is my understanding that the intention of the [conference] committee is to strongly encourage States to use funding under the Teacher Quality Grant program to fund the Math and Science Partnerships; am I correct?"

REGULA: "Mr. Speaker, the gentleman from Michigan is substantially correct. The conference report strongly encourages States to utilize the $2.85 billion allocated to Title II [Teacher Quality] dollars toward math and science activities."

* * * * *

One additional factor may affect how much money the states put toward improving science and math education. The recently-passed Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), an authorization bill which consolidated and reformed many Education Department programs, contains flexibility provisions that allow states and school districts to use up to half of certain categories of federal education funds (exempting Title I funds for low-income students) for any ESEA-authorized purposes they wish. This could mean that, once a state receives its portion of the $2.85 billion in Teacher Quality funding, it may be able to use half of that portion for education-related activities other than improving the quality of teaching and instruction. Some states and school districts will participate in demonstration projects that allow them even greater flexibility in using Education Department money.

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

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