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Fun with Funding in Science and Math Education

By F. James Rutherford — October 31, 1984 3 min read
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Being an Account of Your Government, So-Called, in Action* Or How to Solve the Science Education Crisis in America Without Adding One Cent to the Budget Deficit, Reducing Social Security Benefits, or Annoying People in High Places

  • Reports, reports, reports. News conferences on reports. More reports. Commentaries on reports. Still more reports, dozens, beginning in 1980. They all agree: The nation is in the throes of a serious crisis in science and mathematics education. O.K. After drifting for a decade and a half, we’re ready to get with it.
  • In the Congress, House first off the blocks. Holds hearings--in early 1983--and declares there’s no doubt about it. A serious national crisis does exist in science education, and by golly it intends to do something BIG about it. More hearings are scheduled.
  • President accepts the April l983 “Excellence” report of his “Rising Tide” Commission with pleasure, noting that it proves what he said all along: We need to get prayer back into the schools.
  • Spirited fight breaks out between House Science and Technology Committee and Education and Labor Committee (as surrogates for their client agencies, the National Science Foundation and the U.S. Education Department) on who gets to authorize billions for science education. After months, belligerents declare truce and jointly sponsor HR 1310 at $425 million, which House eventually passes. Not much, but there’s still the Senate to be heard from--some big-time spenders there.
  • And then there’s the Chief Executive. In the Blue Room he tells 100 top S&M teachers that they are great, the nation appreciates them, and not to worry ‘cause he has finally managed to whip the states into action to deal with the crisis in education.
  • Senate finally swings into action. By summer 1983, Labor and Human Resources Committee calculates it will take exactly $425 million to do the science-education job (with foreign languages and computer learning thrown in for good measure). Calls its creation the “Education for Economic Security Act"--catchy, but doesn’t flow, so let’s stick with S 1285. Anyway, that’s symmetry for you, Congressionally speaking. But not for Senators Eagleton and Moynihan. They tack on an amendment to fund desegregation programs in selected cities. Senator Hatch demurs, sits on S 1285. (Don’t worry, later, much later,1285 hatches--pun intended.)
  • A year later (oh yes, the crisis!), the Congress passes and the President signs a bill appropriating the science-education money for NSF authorized in S 1285, which of course hadn’t been passed. Students of government claim to understand that sort of thing. Well, take it as it comes, and who knows, maybe NSF will even figure out how to spend its $88 million, though patience is clearly called for.
  • Secretary of Education Bell says country on move: SAT’s up a point and no recent White House threats to wipe out Education Department. Nancy and Ronald Reagan adopt a school in Washington, D.C. President announces plan to send teacher up in space shuttle (presumably to take roll and assign homework).
  • Hatch, Eagleton & Moynihan embrace in August, and bingo!, just like that we have ourselves a Senate-passed S 1285. Not your old S 1285 of a year ago, mind you, with its neurotic fixation on science education, but a gussied-up one legalizing “access” to public schools and providing for asbestos abatement in school buildings.
  • House says it will go along with S 1285 and authorizes $425 million. The same folks then dish up an appropriations bill with not one single dollar in it for science education. Well, as Emerson reminds, consistency doesn’t always fly.
  • In its appropriations bill, Senate cuts science education to $200 million.
  • House-Senate Conference Committee meets to set science-education spending at House’s $0 or Senate’s $200 million, or somewhere in between. In a stunning show of its determination to deal decisively with a major national crisis, not to mention its mastery of advanced mathematics, it decides on--that’s right--$100 million. A nice round number.
  • Here, then (drumroll please), is the result of three years of “action": a federal appropriation of funds for improving science and math in the elementary and secondary schools equivalent to less than 1/1000th of the nation’s annual expenditure for precollege education, about 1/2 of 1 percent of the 1985 Education Department budget, and less than $2 per student per year (compared to an average annual local expenditure of nearly $3,000 per student).
  • A nation at risk, indeed!
  • *Coolidge’s Third Law: “For every inaction there is an equal and opposite nonaction.”
    A version of this article appeared in the October 31, 1984 edition of Education Week as Fun with Funding in Science and Math Education

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