Lobbying Yields Math-Science ’03 Budget Windfall

By David J. Hoff — March 12, 2003 3 min read
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In a time of stiff competition for federal dollars, a recent spending increase given to one education program stands out.

The Department of Education’s Mathemathics and Science Partnerships will receive a 708 percent increase this year—up from $12.5 million in fiscal 2002 to $101 million in fiscal 2003.

The windfall happened, advocates for the program say, because businesses, education groups, and professional scientific organizations banded together to make the case that the 2-year-old program needed a major boost to have a national impact.

Because the appropriation now tops $100 million, money will flow to every state so that each can establish a partnership of schools, universities, businesses, and nonprofit groups to address the needs of math and science education around the country. Under the much lower allotment for 2002, just two states won money in a competitive- grant process to set up such partnerships.

“Our goal was to get more money dedicated for math and science programs for the states,” said Jodi Peterson, the director of legislative affairs for the National Science Teachers Association, a 53,000-member group based in Arlington, Va. “We were very surprised. In the environment the budget was passed this year, it was a long shot.”

The proponents succeeded, they say, because they built a coalition of those anxious to ensure that every state begin a project that addresses critical needs, such as enhancing teacher knowledge of the fields they teach and attracting students to advanced math and science courses and, eventually, careers in those fields.

“We’re vitally interested in anything we can do to raise the capabilities of students in math and science and raise the prestige of math and science education to attract people to the field,” said Tom Ferrio, the vice president of educational and productivity solutions for Texas Instruments Inc. The Dallas-based company is a member of the Triangle Coalition for Science and Technology Education, the Arlington, Va.-based group that spearheaded the lobbying effort to raise spending.

Lost Ground

The big increase for the Mathematics and Science Partnerships—known as MSPs— came in the mammoth, long-delayed fiscal 2003 appropriations bill that Congress passed and President Bush signed last month. Overall, the measure allocated $53.1 billion in discretionary spending for the Education Department, a 6.3 percent increase, for the budget year that began Oct. 1. (“Ed. Dept. Gets 6.3 Percent Increase for 2003,” Feb. 19, 2003.)

But the increase for the partnerships, while large, represents only a partial recovery from the losses in fiscal 2002 for money dedicated to math and science education.

In fiscal 2002, the $12.5 million for the partnerships was a steep drop from the $250 million reserved for math and science teachers in a professional-development program that preceded it in fiscal 2001. In the “No Child Left Behind” Act of 2001, that program had been merged into a block grant giving states wide discretion in how to spend the money.

Math and science advocates at the time said that the combination of the tiny, newly created partnership program and the block grant meant that the federal government was scaling back its spending at a time when their fields had crucial needs. (“Math and Science Could Be Big Losers Under New Law,” Jan. 16, 2002.)

“That was another incentive for people to support us,” said J. Patrick White, the executive director of the Triangle Coalition, which includes businesses and education groups, including the NSTA and the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics. “States felt a big cut in the dedicated funds.”

Because the Education Department received such a small amount for its math and science partnerships in fiscal 2002, it decided to pool that money with a $150 million National Science Foundation effort to pay for projects that link universities and school districts in research efforts.

North Carolina and Vermont were the only two states to win the Education Department’s funding in 2002 for statewide projects that will last five years. Both states now will receive money for those projects in addition to their formula grants from the 2003 Mathematics and Science Partnership funds, according to Melinda Malico, an Education Department spokeswoman.

Now that Mathematics and Science Partnerships money will flow to every state, the Education Department and NSF projects are able to complement each other, Ms. Peterson of the science teachers’ association said.

“This is how we think the law was intended to be in the first place,” she said. “The NSF programs are the large, model programs, while the MSPs are the smaller, state-based grants using the best practices.”

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