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Capitol Report: July 9, 2013

Capitol ReportBy Della B. Cronin

As Washington settles down from its annual raucous birthday party for the United States of America, a fair amount of activity on Capitol Hill is keeping math education advocates busy. Immigration reform, reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), and the budget process are just a few of the issues that NCTM is watching.

As has been reported widely in the media, Congress is engaging in a lively debate about comprehensive immigration reform. The Senate has approved a comprehensive proposal that includes new investments in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education. The bill ultimately won strong bipartisan support, and its champions hope the House will follow suit. Of course, the House process is proving to be a very different experience for immigration reform supporters. Just before Congress left town for the July 4 recess, House Judiciary Committee chairman Darrell Issa (R-Ohio) managed to get his panel to approve a bill that would address some of the issues included in the larger Senate proposal. Unfortunately, he was forced to remove the STEM education fund provisions; some argued that the new fund was essentially a “tax” provision and would force the bill to be debated by the House Ways and Means Committee before proceeding—a momentum-killing detour, for sure. Although this development was disappointing to NCTM and STEM education advocates, they hope to have opportunities to address those issues again as events develop in the House later in the process. Ultimately, the immigration reform debate will be governed by the controversy surrounding issues much bigger than the STEM education fund—border security, possible paths to citizenship, and amnesty among them. Regardless, NCTM will be working with its colleagues in the advocacy community to support new investments in STEM education to resolve the long-term problem of inadequate interest and success in the STEM fields that is being addressed in the short term by changes to the visa programs that allow domestic corporations to bring foreign STEM talent to the United States.

While NCTM has been active in the immigration policy arena, it has also been keeping tabs on more familiar issues, like the ESEA reauthorization debate. Last month, House and Senate education committees approved very different proposals to reauthorize the law, which has been in place and affecting education in states and districts for more than 10 years now. It looks as though the House might debate its version of the legislation as early as the week of July 22. The House bill—the Student Success Act (HR 5)— passed out of committee on a purely partisan vote and represents what Republicans believe is a more appropriate federal role in K–12 education—fewer requirements and more flexibility for states. It also would eliminate the Math and Science Partnership program and loosen the requirements related to professional development investments, essentially sending those funds to states and allowing them to spend them according to local needs. NCTM has written to lawmakers voicing its concerns about the proposal. As for the Senate, its much-larger bill, which is much more similar to current law, could be on the floor in the fall, potentially setting the stage for a House-Senate conference to negotiate a compromise version of a new law before the end of the year.

In the meantime, Congress is making some progress on the budget process. The Senate Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education Appropriations Subcommittee is expected to decide how much to invest in education programs soon. In the absence of a new ESEA, the White House is reportedly attempting to win support for some of its budget proposals—including the new STEM Master Teacher Corps and the STEM Innovation Networks. Of course, while the STEM education community is generally supportive of the concepts of these proposed programs, advocates are concerned that the administration might attempt to change established STEM education investments—like the Math and Science Partnerships—in its efforts to implement its STEM education agenda. NCTM will be watching for such attempts.

Although Washington will certainly be quiet in August, as it is every year, a lot of activity will be of interest between now and then—particularly for those watching STEM education and K–12 education policy, like NCTM.

Della B. Cronin is with Washington Partners, LLC

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