Saturday, March 10, 2007

New bill aimed at improving low-income schools


March 8, 2007

CONTACTS: Allyn Brooks-LaSure (Menendez) 202-224-4744


New legislation to make partnership
available for equipment, training

WASHINGTON – United States Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ) today introduced legislation that would authorize $20 million in grants for a pilot program that would allow the neediest school districts across America to enter partnerships to upgrade their science laboratory equipment, develop new methods of teaching science laboratories, and train high school laboratory teachers. The legislation is an effort to improve the science laboratory experience for students in rural and low-income schools, and also increase the number of women and minorities interested in studying math, science and engineering in college.

U.S. Representative Ruben Hinojosa (D-TX) introduced an identical measure in the House of Representatives, which the House Subcommittee on Research and Science Education held hearings on today.

“ America has always been a leader in the global economy due to our innovative and inventive spirit, but it is imperative that we not rest on our laurels,” Senator Menendez said. “To stay competitive we must ensure that all of our country’s students are challenged academically and inspired to pursue a wide range of subjects – including hard sciences – and supplied with the necessary means to study and advance their knowledge in such disciplines. We must ensure that the typically underserved, such as women and disadvantaged students, are afforded the same opportunities as their counterparts in the study of math, science, and engineering. By diversifying those career fields we will not only promote greater equality, but we will guarantee a more competitive America in the global econonomy.

The Menendez measure would authorize $20 million for a matching grant pilot program to be administered by the National Science Foundation. Eligible grantees are partnerships between high-need or rural school districts, a college or university, and the private sector. The legislation has broad support and has to date been endorsed by the American Chemical Society, American Council on Education, ASHRAE, Business Higher Education Forum, Campaign for Environmental Literacy, Hands on Science Partnership, Institute of Food Technologists and the National Science Teachers Association.

“In order to ensure our nation’s global competitiveness, American schools must cultivate the finest scientists, engineers, and technicians – from every part of our society – so that we can create the innovations of tomorrow that will keep our nation strong,” said Catherine T. Hunt, President of the American Chemical Society. “This legislation will enable more high-need schools to provide their students with safe, effective learning environments that will foster scientific inquiry."

“Our nation must reinvest in our children if we hope to participate effectively in the international knowledge economy—we need more students to engage earlier in the areas of science, technology, engineering and math,” said American Council on Education President David Ward. “We must find new ways to connect with students at the elementary and high school level to spark their interest in these often demanding fields. Exposing these students to hands-on science in a laboratory setting early on could prove to be the way we grow our country’s next generation of scientists and engineers who can then assist in creating our future.”

“PALS partnership grants will be instrumental in helping schools to develop and maintain a safe, well-equipped lab space and bring ongoing professional development to teachers,” said Dr. Gerald Wheeler, Executive Director of the National Science Teachers Association. “Research-based pilot programs will help fill in the gaps in our knowledge about how best to employ labs. The best practices and materials developed in this pilot program can be used as a model by stakeholders who want to strengthen high school lab science in their communities.”

If passed, the bill will allow school districts to use the grants in a variety of ways including: developing a plan for improving laboratory instrumentation and laboratory space; acquiring laboratory equipment and other scientific educational materials; maintaining, renovating, or improving of existing laboratories; and professional development and training for high school science lab teachers.

Grants may also be used for developing instructional materials that integrate lab and classroom learning; safety training; and developing hands-on laboratory experiments designed to encourage women, minorities, and the disabled to enter math, science, engineering, and technology fields.

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