Senate Likely To Craft New Math-Science Bill
Washington--As the Senate, returning from its Easter recess this week, renews its efforts to fashion a science-and-mathematics education bill, education committee aides are already indicating that the measure most likely to emerge will be different from the House bill in two important ways: The bill will be smaller than the $425-million House measure, with funding perhaps as low as $270 million; and the measure will be narrower, targeted toward more specific goals.
"In typical House fashion, they tried to do everything with 50 cents," says Ronald P. Preston, an aide to the Senate Labor and Human Resources Committee, of the 11 separate programs contained in the House bill, HR 1310.
That measure, along with other proposals with Senate sponsors, has been the subject of two hearings before the Senate education subcommittee. A third is scheduled to be held on April 8. (See Education Week, March 9. Senate bills are described in the accompanying table.)
Although the House bill has received overwhelming support from the education community, it is viewed as unnecessarily broad by several Senate staff members.
They say privately that although two Democratic senators have introduced even larger bills--supported by the National Education Association and the National School Boards Association--most of the senators acknowledge that the chamber is unlikely to approve a large-scale measure.
"The Democrats and Republicans around here would all like to spend a lot on this problem," says one staff member. "But they all know they can't spend much, so the bill has to be simpler, more targeted."
The Senate aides say their chamber is most likely to change the House bill's provisions for a formula-grants program to local school districts. Funds under the program, known as the "emergency mathematics education act," may be spent for a variety of projects, including: providing inservice training for teachers, administrative personnel, and school-board members; evaluating local mathematics-and-science resources; developing plans for modernizing instructional courses; developing technological curricula; and enlisting the assistance of local businesses, libraries, and museums in designing programs.
In short, they say, schools would be asked to reassess and redesign their entire science and mathemat-ics curricula, even though the $250 million allotted to fulfill that mandate would give the average school district only a few thousand dollars.
The final Senate bill is likely to shrink the schools' allotment even further, but the funds will be spent for narrower purposes--perhaps only for textbook and materials purchases, according to one staff member.
Another issue that the Senate is expected to resolve is the matter of which agency, the Education Department or the National Science Foundation, should have responsibility for operating summer institutes--known as "refresher courses"--for teachers.
The House bill provides funds for operating such programs in both agencies, with programs managed jointly. Senate aides say their bill is likely to give the science foundation responsibility for operating the programs, with the department providing tuition grants to teachers to attend the programs.
The Senate bill is also likely, the aides say, to allot funds to the foundation to develop science and mathematics curricula, a project that will attempt to repeat successful curriculum-development efforts undertaken as part of the National Defense Education Act, which was passed in the so-called post-Sputnik "science crisis" in 1958.
And the foundation will take responsibility for providing scholarships to potential and current science teachers, they say.
Finally, a new project, which has broad academic, business, and Democratic support, is likely to be incorporated into the Senate bill, according to Mr. Preston. The project, which would set up a "consortium" approach to long-range planning for high-technology needs, is currently embodied in the "high technology Morrill act," sponsored by Senator Paul E. Tsongas, Democrat of Massachusetts.
The Senator's bill--which was inspired by suggestions from leaders of high-technology industry in the Boston suburbs--would distribute $500 million to projects run jointly by schools or colleges, states, and businesses. The consortium approach would permit states to fit education initiatives into their already-established economic-development plans, says Mitchell G. Tyson, an aide to the Senator.
"Funding for consortia arrangements is definitely a creditable idea," says Mr. Preston, although he adds that financial support for the program is likely to be much less than Senator Tsongas envisions.