The House has now passed its version of the FY 2008 Labor-HHS-Education Appropriations bill. During floor debate on the bill, an amendment was adopted to increase funding for the Department of Education's Mathematics and Science Partnership (MSP) program, from the FY 2007 funding level of $182.2 million to $197.9 million. This represents an increase of $15.7 million, or 8.6 percent. Both the President and the House Appropriations Committee recommended flat funding of $182 million for the MSP program; the Senate Appropriations Committee called for $184 million.
The amendment to increase the Education Department's MSP funding was offered by Rep. Vern Ehlers (R-MI), and passed on a voice vote. Ehlers proposed reducing funding for a Department of Labor management account by $15.7 million as an offset. A similar amendment, which would have increased MSP funding by $25.0 million, was offered by Rep. Rush Holt (D-NJ) but rejected. Below are selected excerpts from the July 18 floor discussion on these amendments. Some paragraphs have been combined in the interests of space:
HOLT AMENDMENT TO INCREASE MSP FUNDING BY $25.0 MILLION:
REP. HOLT: "[T]his amendment is intended to make it possible for more teachers throughout America to have the professional development that we have promised them in science, math and technology education.... Under No Child Left Behind, the Elementary and Secondary Act reauthorization...the Eisenhower Program that provided teacher training and professional development was changed to [the] Math and Science Partnership. Subsequently, the funding was cut to about a quarter of what had previously been provided, and it has never recovered."
"Whether you look at the ‘Rising Above the Gathering Storm' report of the National Academy of Sciences or the Congress's own Innovation Agenda or the President's Competitive Initiative, we are all saying, in fact leaders of this country are yelling and screaming that we must do better in science and math education for our competitiveness, for our quality of life. If we are to do that, we must help the teachers with their professional development. Funding prior to No Child Left Behind for math and science teacher development was $485 million. Currently under this appropriations bill in front of us, the funding for the successor programs for math and science teacher professional development is $182 million.... It is not enough. We owe it to the students. We owe it to the teachers. But even more, we owe it to our society."
HOUSE APPROPRIATIONS COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN DAVID OBEY (D-WI): "Earlier today, the gentleman [Rep. Holt] had a previous amendment which tried to put money in a worthy program, and I expressed then my concern about the offset. I must do the same thing on this occasion.... [W]hile I certainly understand why the gentleman wants to add the funds that he wants to add, I simply cannot continue to buy into the idea that we can take all of these items out of administrative budgets. It simply is not responsible.... I simply cannot support this amendment and I would not at all urge Members to vote for it not because the funding that the gentleman seeks isn't worthy, but because the solution that the gentleman lays out isn't real, unless you think that we can have agencies run programs with no desks and no lights and no phones and no personnel, nobody to cut the checks and no policy direction. So, with that, I...regretfully indicate my opposition to the amendment."
REP. EHLERS: "I have rushed down to the floor to support this amendment, and a little history is helpful at this point. When No Child Left Behind was written, it removed Eisenhower funding from the program. We had been putting in over $400 million per year for Eisenhower funding, most of which went to math and science education.... [E]ver since then we have been funding math and science education at considerably lower figures than we did before No Child Left Behind was written. In this particular bill, the Department of Education has received a substantial boost, No Child Left Behind has received a substantial boost, but the funding for math and science education has remained level, and that just doesn't make sense.... If we are serious about competing with other countries in innovation and development, and getting our manufacturing up to snuff, we have to improve our K-12 education, and that is what this amendment is all about. I very strongly support the amendment, and I urge the body to adopt this amendment."
HOUSE APPROPRIATIONS COMMITTEE RANKING MINORITY MEMBER JAMES WALSH (R-NY): "Briefly, Madam Chairman, this is a real dilemma. We just cut the administrative budget by $125 million for historically black colleges. This is another $25 million. The need is clearly there. I think the subcommittee's done a good job providing funds, but it is a dilemma and I think Members are going to have a tough decision to make on this amendment."
The Holt amendment was rejected.
EHLERS AMENDMENT TO INCREASE MSP FUNDING BY $15.7 MILLION:
REP. EHLERS: "I would like to remind everyone that not too many years ago when America was just getting into the space program, we were very excited about launching the first satellite into space when the Russians launched Sputnik. This was a national disgrace. President Eisenhower had to go on national TV to apologize. He set in place a large number of science and math programs to get us caught up with the Russians. The Eisenhower programs continued for many years until we decided to write No Child Left Behind, and we killed the Eisenhower funding, which was in the neighborhood of $450 million a year to teach teachers how properly to teach math and science. In its place, we adopted a Math and Science Partnership Program, which operates within the Department of Education. However, the funding, which was authorized at $450 million, which matched the Eisenhower funding of the era before, was never appropriated at a level near that..... But this year, even though the appropriations bill increases the No Child Left Behind funding by 8.6 percent, it held the funding for Math Science Partnerships flat, exactly where they were last year. My amendment would increase the Math Science Partnership funding by precisely the same percentage as the entire No Child Left Behind Act was increased. The offset for this I selected is from the Department of Labor in an area that was funded far above the President's request. I believe this is a reasonable offset. Apparently the CBO agrees. They have scored my amendment as a $10 million savings overall."
REP. HOLT: "I thank the gentleman for yielding. I also thank him for presenting this amendment, similar to an amendment that I offered earlier in a larger dollar amount. Perhaps this one will have a better chance of success. It still should provide funding for hundreds of teachers in each State, to get some of the professional development that we have promised them that they need and that will help our competitiveness, our quality of life, our economic productivity and the science capacity of our students."
REP. OBEY: "I am of a split mind on this amendment, just as I was on the previous Holt amendment this evening. I think the goal of the amendment is certainly worthwhile; but at the same time I am trying to follow a responsible course with respect to the ability of executive agencies to function administratively. So again I would simply say that I think the fact that this amendment is being offered in a way that would draw further funds out of the Department of Labor management accounts is another demonstration that the White House is dead wrong when they say that this bill contains too much money."
"I am not going to mount the barricades to oppose the amendment, but I simply have to observe that while the amendment is certainly worthwhile, the offset that it proposes is really not a real one, and I think we all know when we go to conference we are going to have to repair the administrative budget of the agency. Having said that, I am not going to ask people to vote against it if they want to engage in those kinds of actions on the executive branch's administrative functions."
REP. WALSH: "I certainly appreciate the chairman's dilemma. I have it also. But I would like to take just a moment to congratulate Vern Ehlers and Rush Holt for their leadership. When you come here, there are certain things that are important to you, and when you have an opportunity to effect them, you should. They are consistently supportive of this issue. This is a national crisis that we have. They are only trying to prepare our kids for the future. And as I understand it, we have already cut the Labor Department by about $4 million. This would be another 15, so approximately an 8 percent reduction in their overall $400 million budget. A slight increase in this, I think, is worth a slight decrease on that side, so I will support the amendment."
REP. EHLERS: "I thank the gentleman from New York [Rep. Walsh] for his comments, and I appreciate his support. I also appreciate the dilemma of the gentleman from Wisconsin [Rep. Obey] because I previously served on an appropriations committee at the State level and had to fight exactly the same battles and make exactly the same decisions. Let me just remind everyone here that No Child Left Behind was increased by 8.6 percent. Math and Science Partnership for some reason was left out of that and stayed flat. I am simply asking that it be increased the same amount as No Child Left Behind. I am quite willing to trust the judgment of the chairman of the Appropriations Committee and others in conference to make appropriate adjustments to the Labor Department or wherever else adjustments are needed, but I would certainly appreciate bringing the Math and Science Partnership funding up to exactly the same level that No Child Left Behind has been increased because it is part and parcel of No Child Left Behind."
The Ehlers amendment was agreed to by voice vote.
The full Senate has not yet voted on its version of the FY 2008 Labor-HHS-Education Appropriations bill.