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Rep. Tonko Introduces Bill To Strengthen Engineering Programs In Schools

Lucas Willard

  New York Congressman Paul Tonko has unveiled legislation designed to introduce and strengthen engineering programs at schools across the country. 

Tonko, a New York Democrat, visited with school officials and students with the Ballston Spa High School Robotics team Monday.

The students were working together as part of a summer camp activity to program small robots to perform simple tasks such as following a line on the floor or moving around the perimeter of a table.

Tonko announced a new piece of legislation he has introduced in the House of Representatives known as the Educating Tomorrow’s Engineer’s Act Tonko, an engineer by trade and former president of the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority, said the work being displayed by students at the Robotics Club was just one example of what he’d like to see in schools across the country.

"Introduction of engineering materials, engineering hands-on opportunities - those moments are important and that can spark the interest in a career path that can strengthen our belief and our hope that we'll produce the engineers and scientists that we rightfully require," said Tonko.

The Educating Tomorrow’s Engineer’s Act require schools to integrate engineering into their baseline science educational curriculums.

States would be required to ensure engineering concepts are integrated into science standards, but a separate set of standards specifically for engineering would not be mandated.

Under the bill, states would have access to federal funding through State Assessment Grants under the federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act. Other federal assistance would be provided through the ESEA’s Teacher and Principal Training and Recruitment Fund to support professional development and instructional materials.

Tonko said he also hoped the bill would help encourage private-public partnerships between industry and school districts.  

Cliff Annis, Vice President of Glenville, NY-based Applied Robotics, said that he was impressed by the students.

"It's pretty exciting to see what's going on here," said Annis.

Superintendent of the Ballston Spa Central School District Joseph P. Dragone embraced the bill while surrounded by students and their robots.

"It's a fabulous opportunity for us to embrace legislation that will continue to move this agenda and provide the best experiences for our students," said Dragone. 

Other reforms would also be made to expand the mission and duties of the Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences to study and evaluate K-12 engineering programs.

Tonko’s Educating Tomorrow’s Engineer’s Act is co-sponsored by Massachusetts Democratic Congressman Joseph Kennedy III, and a version has also been introduced in the Senate by New York Democrat Kirsten Gillibrand.

Lucas Willard is a reporter and host at WAMC Northeast Public Radio, which he joined in 2011.
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