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Senate leaders seek funding boost for U.S. math, science education

A high-profile group of U.S. senators, including Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), have proposed a bill designed to bolster American "competitiveness" by upping federal investments in math, science and technology education and research.

The American Competes Act, announced at a press conference in the Capitol on Monday afternoon, borrows many ideas from bills that died out last year. So far, 11 other senators from both parties have signed on as sponsors.

The new effort, which numbers 209 pages, calls for everything from a summit "to examine the health and direction of the United States' science and technology enterprises," to adoption of principles ensuring government-sponsored research data is shared with the public, to semi-annual school events aimed at stimulating interest in science, technology, math and engineering.

It also proposes hiking research spending at NASA, doubling funding for the National Science Foundation by 2011, doubling funding at the Department of Energy's Office of Science over the next decade, and encouraging so-called "high-risk, high-reward" research at federal agencies and laboratories.

In the educational realm, the bill contains provisions spanning elementary to graduate school. It calls for setting aside millions of federal dollars to expand existing graduate research fellowships, to create math, science and engineering summer internships for middle and high school students, and to train additional teachers to gain math and science prowess.

It hardly seems coincidental that the proposal emerged just two days before Bill Gates is in a public congressional hearing about--what else?--American competitiveness.

The Microsoft chairman and other high-tech leaders have long lamented what they call a subpar American educational system, particularly when it comes to math and science, and continue to clamor for federal action. It remains to be seen whether Congress will send the new mammoth bill to the president's desk anytime soon.