Let the Record Speak: Obama and McCain Tackle Science Education

Every day for the next two weeks we're unpacking the record behind the rhetoric

Question Four: Science Education

John McCain and Barack Obama agree that children are our future. They say we need to teach them well and, after they’ve finished being taught well, let them lead the way. Coming out against education, and thus children, is the political equivalent of voting against puppies and rainbows. And yet, politicians still do it. Which candidate supported education less than their Science Debate 2008 answer lets on? Let’s go to the tape.

An obvious disagreement between Senators Obama and McCain on this issue came over 2005’s HR 3010, Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, For Year 2006. While the final version of the bill passed with both Senators voting “Aye”, Obama and McCain clashed on amendments.

McCain voted against an amendment supplying $5 billion for local educational agencies, against an amendment increasing the maximum Federal Pell Grant award by $200 to $4,250 and against an amendment providing funding to help the education of the disabled. Obama voted for all of these amendments, but as almost all of the votes on those amendments were split down party lines, making it difficult to parse out the candidates’ viewpoints on education in particular, as opposed to government spending more broadly,

In general, McCain has a history of voting against increased federal funding for education, but that comes in the wider context of his stance as a fiscal conservative who votes against increased federal funding for nearly any program. However, the McCain-Lieberman Climate Stewardship Acts of 2005 (which, if you have been reading the previous installments of this series, you should be able to recite from memory) touches on education. The bill devoted $2.5 million a year to funding a National Science Foundation program to help elementary, middle and high school teachers learn about climate change so they could better teach their students about global warming.

Obama, on the other hand, not only usually votes to increase education funding, he even proposed his own bills, S 2392 and S 2428 to set up a database of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) scholarships. The bill does not contain any information about how much will be spent on the database, and Senator Obama proposed the second version of the bill, S 2428, two months before he announced his candidacy for president. With that taking up most of his time, the bill has since languished in committee. To be fair though, STEM education seems important to Obama as he mentioned it 17 times in his ScienceDebate2008 answer, as opposed to McCain only mentioning STEM education by name once.

At the end of the day, it seems like Obama’s legislative history backs up promises of increased funding for the sciences, while McCain’s voting record less closely resembles his Science Debate answer. Tomorrow we look at how the candidates think technology can enhance our national security. Hopefully it will involve lasers.

After a year of winnowing down questions from 38,000 scientists and citizens, Science Debate 2008 sent 14 covering health, research, the environment and science to the presidential candidates. Both Senator McCain and Senator Obama answered the questions, and their answers can be read here. However, it’s easy for a politician to make promises, so _PopSci investigated both senator’s voting records to see if their history matched up with their promises for the future. Each day for the next two weeks we’ll present an analysis of the candidate’s voting records as compared with their answers to the ScienceDebate2008 questions. You can follow the entire series at popsci.com/election, where you can also sign up for an RSS feed._

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