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"STEM" On The Hill

A couple of bills that take very different approaches to science, technology, engineering, and math ("STEM") education topics are in play on Capitol Hill. Here's a synopsis of both:

—Yesterday, a sub-panel of the House Committee on Science and Technology approved a bill that seeks to improve coordination for science and math education programs across the federal government. Sponsored by Rep. Bart Gordon, a Tennessee Democrat who chairs the House science committee, HR 1709 would establish a White House committee with the responsibility of making various STEM programs work together. The committee would be housed in the White House's National Science and Technology Council. The bill resembles legislation sponsored by Rep. Mike Honda, a California Democrat, and somebody named Barack Obama, then a mere senator from Illinois, last year. Here's an item I wrote on their efforts back then.

A report released two years ago found that the federal government spends about $3 billion across agencies on STEM education programs, at agencies ranging from the U.S. Department of Education to the National Science Foundation to the U.S. Department of Energy to NASA. How well these activities are coordinated with each other, and whether they learn from each others' experiences, remain open questions, some say.

The bill would require the White House committee to work with different agencies and ask them to produce detailed plans every five years, in which they set long-term objectives and specify how they are judging their STEM programs' effectiveness.

—Another bill, dubbed the "The GREEN Act," seeks to establish competitive "renewable energy curriculum development grants" to career-and-technical education K-12 and college programs. The legislation, HR 1775, by Rep. Jerry McNerney, a Democrat, calls for $100 million in grant funding for partnerships between school districts and higher education institutions, under the rules specified in the federal Perkins Act, which governs vocational education.

Interest in renewable energy lessons and curricula is booming in K-12 schools, as I discussed in a recent story. McNerney seems pretty keen on renewables, to say the least, and on "STEM" topics generally. He has a PhD in math, worked as an engineering contractor at the Sandia National labs, and founded a start-up company to manufacture wind turbines, according to his congressional bio.

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