Alexander asks governors’ aid to boost economic edge

Posted on February 28, 2007

WASHINGTON — U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., took his long-sought-after global competitiveness agenda to the nation’s governors Tuesday, telling the state leaders that they have as much power as the federal government to boost science and math scores. Sen. Alexander told about a dozen governors here that state control of education means their help is needed to ensure that top teachers produce top students who can compete in the global economic marketplace of the 21st century. Sen. Alexander spoke at the final session of the National Governors Association winter meetings. “Ninety percent of funding for K-12 is state and local,” said Sen. Alexander, a two-term former governor of Tennessee. “If you want to pay teachers more for teaching well, you can do it at home.” Sen. Alexander is pushing a bill in to maintain the nation’s “brainpower advantage.” The measure, expected to cost as much as $20 billion over five years, stalled in Congress last year. It had 70 co-sponsors then but did not come up for a vote. Still, Sen. Alexander told the governors that bipartisan legislation on global competitiveness would be introduced in Congress in coming weeks. Jim Manley, a spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said Sen. Reid and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., are readying a bill to address the nation’s economic competitiveness. But he said no details were available and no timetable has been set for its introduction. Meanwhile, U.S. Rep. Bart Gordon, D-Tenn., chairman of the House Committee on Science and Technology, is introducing corresponding competitiveness legislation in the House. His bill would include scholarships for 10,000 students each year in math and science education in exchange for an agreement to teach for five years. It also would provide 250,000 stipends for teachers to earn continuing education credits during the summers. Rep. Gordon said the nation’s children are in danger of having a lower standard of living than their parents if future graduates cannot compete with other countries for science and engineering jobs. “My daughter has to be able to make 50 widgets in the time that someone else can make one widget,” Rep. Gordon told the governors. “Our students have to be able to enter the work force in a much more competitive way.” Sen. Alexander has been pushing for a global competitiveness package since a National Academy of Science panel in 2005 warned about the nation’s dwindling technology advantage. He told the governors that many of the commission’s recommendations could be copied on the state level. States alone could create summer academies for teachers’ continuing education, increase advanced placement courses and create math and science residential high schools, he said. “If we fail to invest the funds necessary to keep our brainpower advantage, we’ll not have an economy capable of producing enough money to pay the bills,” Sen. Alexander said. Sen. Alexander cited a recent $1 million contribution from Eastman Chemical Co. to East Tennessee State University for math teachers’ professional development as an example of public-private cooperation. Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue, who attended Tuesday’s session, said a state’s economy would grow and attract more businesses if a math and science focus is combined with workplace development programs. "Ultimately that’s what companies are looking for,” he said. Rep. Gordon told the governors to lobby their congressman and senators to back the globalcompetitiveness packages when they are debated this year. Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen did not attend this meeting of the conference, having left Washington on Monday. COMPETITIVENESS RECOMMENDATIONS Some of the recommendations of the commission of the National Academies, led by former Lockheed Martin Chief Executive Officer Norm Augustine, include: Recruiting 10,000 new science and math teachers with four-year scholarships and training 250,000 current teachers in summer institutes. Tripling the number of students who take advanced placement math and science exams. Increasing federal funding for basic research in the physical sciences by 10 percent a year for seven years. Providing 30,000 scholarships and graduate fellowships for future American scientists. Granting foreign students who earn a doctorate in science, engineering, math or computing “green cards” so they can live and work in the United States. Giving American companies a bigger research and development tax credit so they will keep their best jobs here instead of moving them offshore.