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Lawmakers hope to add more science, math teachers
Scripps Howard Foundation Wire


April 14, 2005

Washington - Sponsors of a new bill in the House hope to add interest in science, mathematics and engineering by cutting interest.

Loan interest, that is.

Rep. Frank Wolf, R-Va., on Tuesday introduced the Math and Science Incentive Act of 2005. It would forgive up to $10,000 of interest accumulated on student loans for students who promise to spend five years working in jobs in their fields after graduation.

"America's dominance in science and innovation is slipping," Wolf said at a press conference. "We are facing today a critical shortage of science and engineering students in the United States."

Kelly McDiffett, principal of the high school in Council Grove, Kan., said he has been advertising a math teaching job for several weeks, but must compete with other nearby school districts that also need math teachers.

"If you talk to school administrators, there's a general statement that says if you've got a math opening, guys will say, 'Wow, that's a tough one,' " McDiffett said.

B.J. Bryant, executive director of the American Association for Employment in Education, said the shortage in these subjects is a cyclical problem.

"Let's say that I'm a high-school student and the teachers that are teaching chemistry and physics and math were actually prepared to teach general math and general science, but because of the shortage of science teachers they're all of a sudden teaching upper-level chemistry and physics," she said. "Well then I - as a student - am not going to really feel turned on by science."

Wolf was joined by Reps. Vernon Ehlers, R-Mich., and Sherwood Boehlert, R-N.Y.; Sen. John Warner, R-Va., who plans to introduce the bill in the Senate; and Newt Gingrich, former speaker of the House. Wolf said the legislation was inspired by Gingrich's book "Winning the Future: A 21st Century Contract With America."

Wolf estimated the cost at $600 million over 10 years.

The lawmakers said that by allowing the country to fall behind other countries in these fields, the United States will lose its position as the world's economic leader.

The subject was a topic of discussion among university engineering faculty members attending a conference this week, said Terry King, dean of the College of Engineering at Kansas State University.

"In China, over 34 percent of all graduates from universities are in engineering, as compared to the United States, where it's closer to 3 percent," King said.

Wolf listed several indicators of America's weakened position, including declining numbers of patents, published research and Nobel Prizes.

"From the 1960s through the 1990s, American scientists dominated," he said. "Now, the rest of the world has caught up."


Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service.

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