Panel OKs science-education boost

Posted on March 29, 2006

WASHINGTON - A Senate committee Wednesday passed a bill that aims to spend about $9 billion a year for additional research and math, science and technology education at facilities like Oak Ridge National Laboratory and the University of Tennessee. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., one of the authors of the bill, said it "will provide for more groundbreaking research at Oak Ridge National Laboratory and allow thousands of Tennessee teachers and students to be trained at high-quality scientific research facilities." The bill's goal is to greatly improve science education and research in this country to better compete with growing pools of talent in China, India and elsewhere. So far, 68 of the 100 senators are on record as backing the bill, and support is divided equally between the two major parties. The bill also would double tax credits for companies doing research and development in scientific innovation of national interest. So, multiple Senate and House committees have jurisdiction over portions of the bill, and each panel must vote on it. But the bill is on a fast track because it includes priorities of a study on competitiveness by the National Academy of Sciences, and it quickly was embraced by the key committee chairmen and leaders of the House and Senate. For example, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., and Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid of Nevada are supporters. Also, President Bush mentioned portions of the National Academy goals in his State of the Union speech early this year. Alexander predicted that ORNL and UT, which already have a strong partnership in science education and research, will be likely recipients of federal funds from the bill for hosting summer academies for up to 1,000 math and science teachers, from 10 percent annual increases in federal research and development spending, from new $20,000 scholarships for majors in science, technology, engineering or math, and for placing interns from middle and high schools. The bill, S. 2197, is called the Protecting America's Competitive Edge Act.