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Science Panel Lends Bipartisan Support to 'COMPETES' Bill

At a time when it's hard to find bipartisanship in Washington, it appears that legislation to reauthorize the America COMPETES Act may prove a noteworthy exception. Yesterday, the House Science and Technology Committee by a vote of 29-8 approved a wide-ranging bill to reauthorize the law, which includes a strong emphasis on improving education in the STEM fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.

"The statistics speak for them themselves. More than half of our economic growth since World War II can be directly attributed to development and adoption of new technologies," said Rep. Bart Gordon, D-Tenn., the chairman of the House science panel, in an April 28 press release. "The path is simple. Research and education lead to innovation. Innovation leads to economic development and good paying jobs."

The bill "makes investments in science, innovation, and education to strengthen the nation's scientific and economic leadership, support employers, and create jobs in the short-, mid-, and long-term," the press release explains.

In a blog item yesterday, I highlighted a few of the education-related provisions. I also linked to a story I wrote earlier this year about how the America COMPETES Act as crafted in 2007 contained a variety of education provisions, but that many of them have never been funded.

Below I'll point to a few additional aspects of the House legislation provided in the committee press release.

The science panel approved a so-called "manager's amendment" that, in addition to technical and minor changes, lowered the authorization levels in the base text by just over 10 percent from the bill as first introduced. The legislation still maintains a path toward doubling spending on key federal science offices and agencies; the modified text will double authorized funding over 10 years based on the 2007 appropriated-funding levels, the committee summary says.

One section of the legislation "would require the White House to create an advisory committee on STEM education responsible for soliciting input from a variety of stakeholder groups in order to offer guidance to the president on how to better align federal programs with the needs of states and school districts, and to improve connectivity between public and private STEM education efforts," the release says.

The bill also clarifies the role of the Department of Energy in contributing to STEM education, including energy-systems science and engineering education.

I haven't had time to really dive into the details of this legislation yet, but as I learn more about any new provisions or important changes related to programs that target K-12 education, I'll blog about them.

UPDATE: Here's a tidbit I just learned about after speaking with James Brown from the American Chemical Society. He tells me that during the science committee deliberations yesterday, Rep. Roscoe Bartlett, R-Md., agreed to withdraw an amendment that would have removed from the America COMPETES Act a provision to fund the Partnerships for Access to Laboratory Science program. The pilot program, which was part of the original COMPETES law in 2007 but to date has received no funding, is designed to improve lab-based STEM education in high schools.

UPDATE #2: I was correct in describing the science committee vote as bipartisan, but it was not ovewhelmingly so. Only five Republicans voted "aye." All eight "no" votes came from Republicans, including Rep. Ralph Hall of Texas, the panel's senior Republican. Four other Republicans, plus two Democrats, did not vote.

In his opening statement yesterday, Rep. Hall cited the high overall cost of the legislation as one of his main objections. "As stewards of the taxpayers' dollars, during these times we need to be even more vigilant with how we allocate our resources," he said.

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