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Senators Unveil Bill to Promote Engineering Education

A bipartisan group of U.S. senators this week introduced legislation to promote and improve engineering education in schools.

"As a nation, our future success depends on our ability to produce a greater number of engineers," Sen. Edward E. Kaufman, D-Del., a co-sponsor of the bill who claims to be the only current senator who has worked as an engineer, said in a prepared statement. "This legislation will give schools nationwide more incentive to implement science and engineering education into K-12 curricula."

With both the America COMPETES Act and the Elementary and Secondary Education Act up for reauthorization, you can be sure that lots of lawmakers will stake a claim by introducing bills touching on some of the issues those laws address.

Of course, introducing a bill is the easy part. Getting it enacted, or built into a larger law, is much harder. And in fact, as I discovered in recently writing about the America COMPETES Act, getting Congress to vote for a new program doesn't mean it will get any money. Many STEM education programs included in the America COMPETES Act from 2007 have never received a dime.

Also, although the Engineering Education for Innovation Act is technically "bipartisan," it may be worth noting that there's only one Republican among the six original co-sponsors in the Senate, and that's Olympia J. Snowe of Maine, one of the dwindling number of centrist Republicans in the chamber.

The other co-sponsors include Sens. Kirsten E. Gillibrand of New York, who is the lead sponsor, Maria Cantwell and Patty Murray from Washington state, and Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota.

If that seems like a lot of female lawmakers focusing on a male-dominated field, it's probably no accident.

In a floor statement yesterday, Sen. Gillibrand noted that one aim of the bill is to encourage "broader participation of girls and underrepresented minorities" in K-12 engineering education.

"Many K-12 students, especially girls and students from underrerepresented groups or who are economically disadvantaged, and their teachers have little knowledge about the engineering design process or the many career possibilities in engineering," she said.

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