As the Ranking Member of the Science and Technology Committee, I am particularly concerned that our nation remains a world leader in innovation and competitiveness. In the 110th Congress, the America COMPETES Act was signed into law by President Bush to help set the framework to keep America as a leader in innovation. The act focuses on three primary areas of importance to maintain and improve United States' innovation in the 21st Century: (1) increasing research investment, (2) strengthening educational opportunities in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) from elementary through graduate school, and (3) developing an innovation infrastructure. Among the act's education activities are programs to recruit new K-12 STEM teachers, enhance existing STEM teacher skills, and provide more STEM education opportunities for students.
As Congress deliberates how much funding it will appropriate for America COMPETES Act programs in 2010, the Science Committee continues to hold hearings covering a range of issues in an effort to improve and grow the Nation's future STEM workforce. I was pleased to bring these issues home to the Fourth District by holding field hearings in McKinney & Texarkana, Texas. The Texarkana hearing was held at the Martha and Josh Morriss Mathematics & Engineering Elementary School. The school is part of a collaborative effort between Texas A&M University (TAMU) and the Texarkana Independent School District (TISD), offering a structured K-16 pathway for students to become interested in STEM fields and to eventually earn a bachelors degree in engineering. At the hearing, Members of Congress heard from local educators, business leaders, and a witness from the National Science Foundation (NSF) on the current state of STEM education in the U.S. as well as ways it could be improved. I believe that inspiring our children about math and science at an early age is extremely important, but keeping them enthusiastic as they progress through middle school and high school and into college is critical. Advancing STEM education must be a national priority if we are to prepare our students for 21st century jobs and keep pace with countries like China and India who are graduating larger numbers of STEM students. They may be graduating more, but the quality of our students remains unsurpassed in the world. The collaboration between TISD and Texas A&M University-Texarkana to make the Morris School a reality is one that can and should be replicated.
The House Committee on Science and Technology also held a field hearing in McKinney, Texas, where we examined the importance of regional innovation centers to the U.S. economy and global competitiveness, and the roles of Federal, state, and local governments in supporting such centers. I thought that it was especially important as we work our way through these tough economic times that we take the time to learn from how things are done at the local and regional level, and there is no better place to start than right here in Northeast Texas. We certainly haven't been immune to the recession, but we haven't been hit as hard as a lot of regions, and our employment data and longer-term business growth trends are impressive. I think that has something to do with how we foster the entrepreneurial spirit and the right kind of environment for technology and innovation, which we know over the long-term, translates to jobs. Collin County, for example, is the fastest growing county in Texas and one of the fastest growing in the country. Unemployment here is under 8 percent--well below the national average--and almost half of adults 25 and older have a bachelor's degree--more than twice the national average. Given data such as this, it should be no surprise that this area is also a technology powerhouse--the greater Dallas area is the sixth largest technology center in the country, with over 225,000 technology jobs. We must remember that while the Federal investments and policies are critical, state and local governments, as well as higher education and industry, also play key roles in fostering a robust regional innovation environment.
In recent years, a growing consensus has emerged regarding the importance of science, technology, and innovation as the key driver of long-term economic growth and improved quality of life in America. Technological progress fueled by investments in research and development is estimated to be responsible for as much as half of U.S. economic growth since World War II. It is critical that we continue our efforts in STEM education to ensure that the next generation of high-tech industries and products are developed by researchers in the United States. America has always been the leader in cutting edge technology and innovation -- and we must do all we can to ensure our strong footing as a global economic leader.