Congress Slashes Science Education Funding (3/02)

The following column by GAP Senior Advisor John Dragonetti is reprinted from the March 2002 issue of The Professional Geologist, a publication of the American Institute of Professional Geologists . It is reprinted with permission.

There are numerous federal programs for elementary and secondary education, but there has been only one set of programs targeted specifically at math and science teachers -- the Eisenhower programs in the Department of Education. Established in 1985, Eisenhower was designed to provide grants and resources to states and local school districts for professional development of math and science educators. Eisenhower supporters have struggled over the years to keep it alive and fully funded. Despite threats over the years to abolish the program, Congress funded Eisenhower at a healthy $485 million for the fiscal year (FY) 2001. But during the reauthorization of the 1965 Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) this past fall, Congress abolished the Eisenhower programs and replaced them with a new math and science partnership initiative. These partnerships will allow state and local education agencies to work with businesses, nonprofit organizations, and universities to enhance professional development for science educators and will be administered through the Department of Education.

Administration Proposal
President George W. Bush introduced his "No Child Left Behind" proposal very early in his administration, following up on a key campaign promise. The proposal -- many of the elements of which were incorporated into the final ESEA bill (H.R. 1) -- outlined a vision of how to restructure the federal role in education. The proposal emphasized improved literacy through the Reading First initiative, increased flexibility in funding and technology grants, and increased accountability for teacher and student performances. States and school districts would be held accountable for federally funded improvement programs, teaching staffs would be evaluated, schools in need of improvement and corrective actions would be identified, school performance and teacher quality would be evaluated, improved literacy programs for K-3rd grade children would be increased, and grants would be available for states to work with institutions of higher learning. President Bush's proposal endorses math and science partnerships and "making math and science curricula more rigorous, improving math and science professional development, attracting math and science majors into teaching, and aligning high school math and science standards to foster college placement."

Congressional Action
Signifying the importance of ESEA reauthorization, House Education and the Workforce Committee Chairman John Boehner (R-OH) introduced H.R. 1 on the first day of the 107th Congress. The corresponding bill in the Senate (S.1), the Better Education for Students and Teachers Act, was introduced by then-chairman of the Health, Education, Labor and Pension Committee James Jeffords (I-VT). A major difference between the House and Senate versions was that the Senate bill required states to develop assessment systems for accountability in reading, math and science. The academic progress of states was to be determined by the National Assessment of Education Progress. In the final version of the ESEA reauthorization bill, the Senate assessment provision prevailed so science testing will be added to the testing regime over time. Both the congressional bills and the president's proposal would reduce the number of specific K-12 programs at the Education Department. The final version of H.R 1 that was signed into law by President Bush on January 8th, will allow state and local education agencies greater freedom in using federal dollars by incorporating previously-targeted programs into large block grants.

Reauthorizing the ESEA was just to first step, especially for the restructured math and science program. As is often the case, the difference between authorization and appropriation can be substantial. Congress authorized up to $450 million for math and science partnerships in H.R. 1. The actual funding for the program, however, was determined by the FY 2002 Labor/HHS Appropriations bill (H.R. 3061). The House-Senate Conference Committee on the Labor/HHS bill appropriated only $12.5 million for the newly established math and science partnerships -- a major blow considering that the Eisenhower programs had been funded at $485 million the previous year. Conference report (H. Rept. 107-334) language acknowledges that the conferees knew that this low funding was not sufficient and added a provision that would authorize the Secretary of Education "to award grants, on a competitive basis, to eligible partnerships to carry out the authorized activities" when the allocation is less than $100 million.

The congressional action is particularly distressing in view of the effort by the American Geological Institute and other science, engineering and education societies urging the H.R. 3061 Conference Committee to fully fund the Department of Education's math and science partnership program. Although the president's campaign promise was to strengthen math and science education, he nevertheless signed H.R. 3061. On a more positive note, the FY 2002 VA/HUD and Independent Agencies Appropriations bill, which includes the National Science Foundation, includes $160 million provided to support partnerships between state and local education agencies and institutions of higher learning. These grants are designed to raise statewide math and science standards, as well as to develop and implement local plans. But the combination of the Department of Education and the National Science Foundation programs still does not come close to the $485 million allocated to the Eisenhower programs in last year's budget.

The president is due to release his FY2003 budget on February 4th, kicking off the next appropriations cycle. It will take a major effort to wnsure that the new partnerships are funded at their authorized level.

This column is a bimonthly feature written by John J. Dragonetti, CPG-02779, who is Senior Advisor to the American Geological Institute’s Government Affairs Program.

This article is reprinted with permission from The Professional Geologist, published by the American Institute of Professional Geologists. AGI gratefully acknowledges that permission.

Please send any comments or requests for information to the AGI Government Affairs Program.

Contributed by John Dragonetti, AGI Government Affairs.

Posted May 13, 2002

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