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Senate OKs bill to boost science and math skills

THE NATION

April 26, 2007|Joel Havemann | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — Congressional Democrats and Republicans have found something they agree on -- boosting U.S. technological prowess by improving science and mathematics instruction from kindergarten through graduate school and assisting researchers early in their careers.

The Senate on Wednesday passed a measure, 88 to 8, aimed at these goals, a day after the House overwhelmingly approved two similar bills.

The lopsided nature of the votes suggested the chambers would have little trouble agreeing on compromise legislation designed to help keep the U.S. competitive in an increasingly high-tech world economy.

And unlike the case with many other bills working their way through the Democratic-controlled Congress, President Bush almost assuredly will sign whatever lawmakers send him. The votes this week in Congress were spurred in part by initiatives he laid out last year.

Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), a former secretary of Education and a leading advocate of the legislation, said the effort was designed to "help us keep our brainpower so that we can keep our jobs."

Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), a dissenter, objected to the budgetary math. Noting that the Senate bill would create 20 government programs without killing any, Coburn said few American families could afford to find 20 new ways to spend their earnings without cutting other spending.

Under the Senate bill, the Education Department would award grants to teachers' colleges to spur more students into science and math. It would fund programs for low-income students performing below grade level in mathematics.

It also would establish at the National Science Foundation a special program to help women pursue careers in math and science and expand the number of grants to graduate schools for science education.

One of the House bills, which passed 389 to 22, would provide financial aid to help universities funnel into teaching careers students majoring in science and math. Among the incentives to students: scholarships of $10,000 a year.

It also would establish new master's degree programs for teachers already specializing in science and math subjects. And it would expand university programs that train future generations of mathematicians, scientists and engineers.

The bill would authorize $1.4 billion in new spending over the next five years -- money that would not be available until provided in subsequent bills.

The second bill, at a potential cost of just over $1 billion, would mostly provide additional support for scientists, mathematicians and other researchers early in their careers. The measure passed, 397 to 20.

The competitiveness bills grew out of a 2005 report by the National Academies. The study warned that the U.S. could lose its competitive edge to other nations if it didn't make a concerted effort to improve the quality of the nation's mathematicians, scientists and engineers.

\o7joel.havemann@latimes.com

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