SARAH COOKE Associated Press Writer HELENA
Sen. Max Baucus wants free college tuition for math and science majors as part of a $25 billion education incentives package that also includes help for rural teachers and more money for pre-kindergarten programs. Baucus, D-Mont., told The Associated Press he hopes to int roduc e hi s Educat i o n Competitiveness Act in the coming months. The goal, he said in an interview last week, is to better prepare children for school and get more of them into college to make the United States more globally competitive, particularly with countries like China and India. "I think the challenge is fierce, and I think we have a real obligation to go the extra mile and redo things a bit differently, so we leave this place in better shape than we found it," Baucus said. The first provision calls for providing a full scholarship to any high school graduate majoring in math, engineering, science or technology. The scholarship would apply to any university, but students must work or teach in a related field for at least four years after graduation to qualify, Baucus said. Another provision would create 25,000 merit-based scholarships for teaching students in those fields, with a similar caveat that they must teach in that subject for at least four years. "Max feels strongly that we need to place a greater emphasis on math and science," said Baucus spokesman Barrett Kaiser. The legislation also calls for grants to help states supplement teacher wages in rural areas, which are often underserved, and to implement and expand pre-kindergarten programs. A national report released earlier this year found states spent at least $3.3 billion last year on pre-kindergarten in 2006 up from $2.8 billion in 2005. Nearly 1 million children, or 20 percent of the country's 4-yearolds, were in state pre-kindergarten in 2006 a 17 percent increase over the previous year, according to the National Institute for Early Education Research at New Jersey's Rutgers University. However, 12 states, including Idaho, Montana and Wyoming, offer no state-funded preschool, and research highlighting the importance of early learning is prompting more and more states to add such programs, the report found. The final provision of Baucus' proposed legislation would combine the Hope Scholarship and Lifetime Learning credits into one higher education tax credit of as much as $2,000 per student. It would cover tuition and other expenses like books, student fees and school supplies giving a boost to middle class families that often find themselves shut out of other financial aid. "This is an attempt to fill that gap and help these families afford college," said Kaiser.