The House on October 24 defeated a bill (H.R. 4271) intended to improve science and math education in public schools. Sponsored by Rep. Vernon Ehlers (R-MI), the bill was approved by the House Science Committee on July 25 (see The Source, 7/31/00, p. 7).
The measure was brought to the floor under suspension of the rules—a procedure that bars amendments and requires a two-thirds majority vote for passage. By a vote of 215-156, H.R. 4271 failed to garner the necessary two-thirds approval.
The bill pertains to the involvement of the National Science Foundation (NSF) in public school curricula. It would authorize $80 million each year for FY2001-FY2003 for this involvement. It would create a teacher mentoring program, encourage the use of updated software in schools, establish an NSF working group on math and science education, and institute a grant program to be overseen by the NSF for schools and school districts to improve their math and science programs.
During committee mark-up, two amendments specifically affecting female students were approved. One amendment would provide grants for schools to develop curricula encouraging girls in grades 4-12 to select careers in math and science. The amendment was offered by Rep. Lynn Woolsey (D-CA), reflecting her “Go Girl” initiative to help empower girls by emphasizing and improving math and science education.
Another amendment, offered by Rep. Connie Morella (R-MD), would create a pilot program to distribute grants to community colleges for the purpose of encouraging women, minorities, and persons with disabilities to study math, science, and engineering.
During floor debate, several Members offered their support for H.R. 4271. Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) acknowledged the bill’s widespread support and the “comprehensive effort and set of hearings” conducted in order to “come to an agreement on a comprehensive bill.” However, she expressed concern about section four of the bill, calling it “clearly unconstitutional.” Section four pertains to a grant program designed to help schools hire “master teachers.” The provision “allows grants to private elementary and middle schools,” Rep. Johnson said, adding, “We simply cannot spend public dollars on private schools.”
Rep. Lynn Woolsey (D-CA) said the bill “includes many innovative programs, such as my ‘Go Girl’ initiative,” but its “poison pill” provision would “give federal funds directly to private and religious schools to hire teachers.”
Rep. Ehlers defended his bill, saying, “We are not breaking new ground. The National Science Foundation at present does give grants to private schools.” He added: “There is a host of questions that have been raised here at the last minute, and they are a considerable surprise to me, because on this bill we have held hearings for over a year, and the bill has been out for almost two years.”
Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-WI) noted that Rep. Woolsey voted to move H.R. 4271 out of committee without raising concerns about section four. “This program has been working very well on the executive level for 17 years, and no one has raised the question that these types of awards violate the establishment clause of the United States Constitution,” he added.