APS News

Lower Funding Shocks Education Advocates

By Richard M. Todaro

The decision by House and Senate conferees last December to fund a newly- established program to improve the quality of math and science education in elementary and secondary schools at just 5% of the amount spent last year by Congress for such improvements has been greeted with surprised disappointment from math and science education advocates. But the head of one of the advocacy groups said he plans to work with a coalition of business, professional, and education groups for full funding of the new program in the years to come.

On December 18, 2001, House and Senate members of the appropriations committee overseeing fiscal year 2002 funding for the Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education appropriated $12.5 million for the Math and Science Partnerships program. Like its more generalized predecessor, the Eisenhower Professional Development program, the new Math and Science Partnerships program is the main vehicle by which the federal Department of Education provides money - either directly to nationwide pilot programs or through grants to individual state programs - to improve the quality of math and science education. Such improvements are made chiefly through teacher training programs that are designed to improve the knowledge and skills of teachers in math and science.

Advocates of such improvements were surprised and disappointed by the amount the conferees approved because it was just 5% of the $250 million spent by Congress in fiscal year 2001 for such improvements. They expressed concern that recent progress in math and science education may be jeopardized. "I'm very worried that the $12.5 million in this year's appropriations will put an end to the strides we have made in the past decade in the area of teacher improvement," said Fred Stein, APS director of education and outreach.

In addition, advocates were disappointed because the amount appropriated accounted for less than 3% of the $450 million authorized for math and science education improvements under the provisions of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA).

"It was certainly not what we wanted or hoped we might get," said Jack Hehn, director of education for the American Institute of Physics.

J. Patrick White is the executive director of the Triangle Coalition for Science and Technology Education (TCSTE), a Washington DC-based non-profit organization that supports math, science, and technology education at the kindergarten through 12th grade levels. "I was disappointed that it wasn't funded at a higher level, but I was glad to see that there was strong support for professional development," he said, referring to the $2.85 billion authorized by the conferees for a component of ESEA called the Teacher Quality Grant program. This program is designed to improve teacher quality in many different areas, including potentially in math and science education, through an assortment of professional development programs.

TCSTE is comprised of about 100 component organizations, and brings together businesses, professional societies, and education groups. Among businesses are AT&T, Dow Chemical, DuPont, Ford Motor, Texas Instruments, and Verizon. The organization is part of a much larger group, called the K-12 Science, Mathematics, Engineering, and Technology (SMET) Education Coalition, which has been the major player in the extensive efforts that were carried out this past year to boost funding for math and science education.

"A large number of people in the science and math community, in particular the K-12 SMET Education Coalition, worked very hard for a year to maintain or increase the emphasis on preparing and supporting science and math teachers," Hehn said.

"We are disappointed by the amount of money in the appropriations bill, but we are encouraged by all the discussions through the year about science and math education and by our interactions with the legislators and their staff," he continued, emphasizing the work of Rep. Vernon Ehlers (R-MI) and Rep. Rush Holt (D-NJ), the only two physicists in Congress. Both Ehlers and Holt succeeded in getting Rep. Ralph Regula (R-OH), the chair of the House appropriations subcommittee, to reiterate on the House floor language that urges states receiving money from the Teacher Quality program to utilize these funds for math and science education improvements.

White said a major goal in the upcoming year will be to get Math and Science Partnerships funding over the $100 million mark because that is the level at which the program transforms from a direct federal one to a state-run grant one. "We are strongly supporting increasing that funding [because] in the [conference report] language, there is a catch," White said. "At $100 million, they become state-funding. We want funding for fiscal year 2003 at a minimum level to trigger state level programs... Anything under $100 million is administered by the Department of Education." State-level programs typically reach far more people than small, federally-run pilot programs.

As part of its commitment to the issue, the K-12 SMET Education Coalition met in Washington on January 15. One of the attendees said the meeting was a strategizing session on where to go from here, and a consensus emerged on a two- pronged approach. The first part would involve an "uphill battle" of getting increased appropriations in a climate of renewed budget deficits. The second part involves "educating" the rank-and-file members of the participating organizations that $2.85 billion in generic Teacher Quality money is already out there and available for professional development in math and science education.


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Editor: Alan Chodos
Associate Editor: Jennifer Ouellette