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Panel calls for better tech education

Using language that harks back to the Cold War era, a congressional panel on national security is urging a revamp of the tech education system.

    Using language that harks back to the Cold War era, a congressional panel on national security is joining the chorus of voices urging a revamp of the tech education system that could churn out more qualified employees.

    Turning up the rhetoric on education reform, the Hart-Rudman Commission, a Washington, D.C.-based panel charged by Congress with studying security issues, released a draft of its final report on national safety warning that the dire state of tech education in the United States could inhibit the country's ability to defend its citizens and maintain a strong economy in the future.

    "Second only to a weapon of mass destruction detonating in an American city, we can think of nothing more dangerous than a failure to properly manage science, technology and education for the common good over the next quarter century," said the report, which lists education reform as one of four steps the United States can take to beef up national security.

    The sharpened rhetoric comes as education is becoming an increasingly important topic in the tech industry, which is suffering from a lack of trained workers. On Tuesday, the AeA, a major tech trade group, named tech education one of its top-three priorities and called for more funding at all levels. And in 2000, influential Silicon Valley lobbying group TechNet waged a successful battle in favor of a school bond on the California ballot.

    President George W. Bush has listed education reform as his top domestic priority; Democrats have responded with their own plan to improve schools.

    Moreover, during his final months in office, former President Bill Clinton urged Congress and the incoming administration to adopt his Cyber Corp initiative, an ROTC-like plan that would grant scholarships to college engineering students in exchange for a period of government service.

    To combat the worker shortage, the commission recommends passing a new National Security Science and Technology Education Act that would provide scholarships or forgive loans for people who agree to teach K-12 math and science classes or take a job as a tech worker for the government. The commission also called for more money for science labs and the expansion of programs for low-income students. And it urged Congress to support doubling research and development funds by 2010.

    "Our systems of basic scientific research and education are in a serious crisis while other countries are redoubling their efforts," the report states. "In the next quarter century, we will likely see ourselves surpassed and in relative decline, unless we make a conscious national commitment to maintain our edge."

    The tech industry has long complained that schools aren't turning out enough workers to meet the increasing demand for skilled employees brought on by the proliferation of the Internet. As a result, tech companies have been lobbying to raise the cap on visas for foreign workers, saying it's the only way to fill jobs in the short term.

    The new report warns that these workers may be lured back to their homeland in significant numbers by tech jobs there.