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Bush: Science, Math Education an Economic Tool

President Bush, heeding dire talk about U.S. science and math, on Tuesday proposed more research and advanced courses in both fields to boost the nation's economic power.

In his State of the Union speech, Bush called for doubling federal spending on critical research programs in the physical sciences over 10 years, a proposed increase of $50 billion.

Bush called for training an additional 70,000 teachers over five years to teach advanced math and science courses in high school, where demand for such classes has soared nationwide. He also proposed new math programs for elementary and middle school students, and reiterated his goal to lure thousands of mathematicians and scientists to become adjunct high school teachers.

"Our greatest advantage in the world has always been our educated, hardworking, ambitious people, and we are going to keep that edge," Bush said. He unveiled a math and science agenda as part of a broader competitiveness initiative, saying the aim is to "encourage innovation throughout our economy and to give our nation's children a firm grounding in math and science."

Bush's action comes as rumbles about slipping U.S. competitiveness in math and science have grown louder, emphasized in reports by corporations, universities and scientific groups.

By mentioning the issue in his prime-time address, Bush gave it prominence.

His ideas borrow largely from "Rising Above the Gathering Storm," a sobering economic blueprint put together last fall by an advisory panel at the request of Congress.

That report warns that "for the first time in generations, the nation's children could face poorer prospects than their parents and grandparents did."

But budget realities will limit any action. Money remains the dominant obstacle in a time of war and deficit spending.

Math, science and technology are considered the nation's economic backbone. They influence research, job creation, innovation and the ability of workers to handle blue-collar and white-collar jobs.

Warning signs are clear. In many ways that the U.S. compares itself to peers — such as test scores by high school students, bachelor's degrees in science and engineering, exports of high-tech products — the nation is being outperformed by China, India and others.

One report that clearly got the attention of the White House was the one about the "Gathering Storm." The National Academies panel that wrote the report was led by Norman Augustine, retired chairman of the Lockheed Martin Corp., and a member of Bush's science advisory council.

It says the "scientific and technical blocks of our economic leadership are eroding." And it calls for expanding math and science scholarships, offering new research grants and reforming visa rules for foreign students, among other ideas.

Congress has bills ready to go. A bipartisan coalition of senators has introduced a set of bills covering every recommendation in the report.

"I share the president's grave concern and congratulate him for his vision," said Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., chairman of the energy committee and one sponsor of the Senate legislation. "We must develop the brain power of Americans to meet the challenges of the future."

In the House, Rep. Bart Gordon, D-Tenn., has offered a similar legislative package.

"I welcome the president's recognition of the challenge facing the U.S. in the global marketplace," Gordon said. "Like the old adage notes, 'Actions speak louder than words,' and I'll be looking for a serious, sustained commitment to innovation in the president's budget request."