The U.S. House of Representatives approved two bills on Tuesday aimed at strengthening research, and improving and supporting the national corps of math and science teachers.
Specifically, H.R. 362, the Science and Math Scholarship Act, and H.R. 363, the Sowing the Seeds through Science and Engineering Research Act, are designed to help eliminate the shortage of skilled workers in the U.S.
Authored by Rep. Bart Gordon (D-TN), Chairman of the House Science & Technology Committee, both bills are based on the recommendations of the National Academy of Science's "Rising Above the Gathering Storm" report, which found that the U.S. stands to lose its competitive edge in the international economy unless immediate action is taken.
"That report told us that now is the time to take bold steps to ensure that our children are prepared for the jobs of the future and that our nation can continue to compete in the global economy," Gordon said in a statement.
The '10,000 Teachers' Bill
H.R. 362, also known as the "10,000 Teachers" bill, would establish programs at universities to recruit strong students majoring in science, math, and engineering into careers in teaching, and provide those students with specialized education courses. Students would receive scholarships amounting to $10,000 per year.
The bill also would provide in-service training to math and science teachers to improve content knowledge and teaching skills through specially tailored master's degree programs and summer institutes. Finally, the bill would strengthen existing programs at universities designed to expand the pool of undergraduate students who will become the next generation of scientists, technologists, engineers, and mathematicians.
Gordon offered an amendment to the bill that would establish public-private partnerships to entice professionals in science or engineering to enter teaching as a second career through stipends to obtain teaching and salary supplements provided by the private sector partners for their first four years in teaching. The amendment was accepted.
The 'Sowing the Seeds' Bill
The second bill, H.R. 363, would provide grant awards through the National Science Foundation and Department of Energy to support early-career researchers in academia and in nonprofit research organizations. It would provide graduate research assistantships in multidisciplinary fields of national need, establish a presidential innovation award to stimulate scientific and engineering advances, and establish a national coordination office to prioritize university and national research needs.
A third bill, H.R. 364, the Advanced Research Projects Agency -- Energy (ARPA-E) Act, aims to decrease U.S. dependence on oil through clean energy technologies. ARPA-E would provide aggressive funding for innovative, out-of-the-box research projects carried out by industry, universities, and groups including federal laboratories. The Committee will hold a hearing on the ARPA-E legislation later this week.
"Innovation is not just a goal, it is a necessity, and one of the first steps we need to take is to invest in scientific education and research along these lines," Gordon said. "That investment is necessary if America is to maintain its position as a global leader in technology and innovation. These bills are part of a framework that will get us there."
The Senate Chimes In
The Senate is getting into the math and science fray, too. On Wednesday, the Senate voted to authorize an additional $16 billion for math and science programs over the next four years. The America Competes Act would create science magnet schools that would be individually adopted by one of the Energy Department's national laboratories. The bill, which also would encourage federal agencies to contribute more money to research initiatives, now moves on to the House.
John Challenger, CEO of Challenger, Gray & Christmas, an international outplacement consulting firm, would like to see the U.S. take it a step further. "It's crucial that we as a country don't fall victim to thinking that we want to hold science and technology jobs for our people," he insisted. "We need to encourage the rest of the world to come here, learn about our culture, and then stay or even go back home and work for U.S. companies from abroad."
Challenger said doing so is crucial because the world is transitioning to a knowledge-based economy and the U.S. needs to establish itself as a nation where skilled workers want to find employment. The more skilled workers who are drawn to the U.S., he said, the stronger the U.S. economy will be. "Attracting skilled workers is the most crucial element of the long-term health of our economy," he concluded.