On April 15, I met with the presidents of some of America's most prestigious universities to discuss ways to improve our nation's global competitiveness.

There is a growing consensus that America's future prosperity is threatened by an erosion in our educational capabilities. Compared to children in other countries, our nation's students are underperforming in the vitally important fields of science, technology, engineering, and math. These are the areas of expertise that spur creativity and new technologies, which are essential for economic growth.

In fact, as much as 85 percent of the measured growth in per capita income is due to technological advancement.

As part of "Competitiveness Week," I joined my Senate colleagues to promote legislative ideas that will spur America's economy. Congress is taking appropriate measures to prevent a deep recession - including a $155 billion stimulus package and a major housing reform plan - but it must also take the necessary steps to strengthen the foundations of America's prosperity - namely, science and technology.

There is a sense of urgency about this issue. As Norman Augustine, the former CEO of Lockheed Martin who headed the National Academies' groundbreaking report on competitiveness, "Rising Above the Gathering Storm" said: "I have never seen American business and academic leaders as concerned about this nation's future prosperity as they are today."

We are starting to see the consequences of our neglect in STEM. China has surpassed the U.S. as the world's largest exporter of information-technology products (and the U.S. has become a net importer of those products). We must redouble our efforts to ensure that America is the world's technological leader in the 21st Century.

One of the best ways to recharge our prosperity is to make the Research and Development tax credit permanent. This vital initiative, which serves as a crucial driver of R&D investment decisions, expired in December. With foreign governments actively recruiting U.S. companies to base research operations abroad, the R&D tax credit is a proven, effective incentive for companies to increase their research and development activities in America.

We also need to ensure that the best minds in the world have the opportunity to work in our country. Current visa restraints that limit the number of U.S.-educated foreign-born workers from staying here must be reformed. One large financial institution recently tried to hire 200 foreign-born students who had graduated from Ivy League schools and were seeking employment in the U.S.

Only 60 were able to get work visas and stay in the U.S.; consequently, the remaining students mostly accepted jobs in London. This is one reason why many economists predict that in 10 years, London will supplant New York as the world's financial capital.

These proactive measures will build upon the highly successful America Competes Act, which Congress passed last year. This legislation addresses several important goals. First, it expands research by doubling funding levels for the National Science Foundation from approximately $5.6 billion in Fiscal Year 2007 to $11.2 billion in FY 2011. It also substantially increases funding levels for the Department of Energy's Office of Science from $3.6 billion in FY 2007 to over $5.2 billion in FY 2011.

Second, the America Competes Act bolsters education by strengthening the skills of teachers in STEM. According to The Center for the Study of Teaching, the most consistent and powerful predictor of student achievement in STEM is the presence of teachers who are fully certified and have at least a bachelor degree in the subject they teach. That's why we're funding Teachers for a Competitive Tomorrow, a project in which colleges and universities encourage undergraduate students to gain degrees in their STEM fields of study with teacher certification obtained through required electives.

This grant program is modeled after the UTeach program at the University of Texas at Austin. In addition, our legislation increases the number of Advanced Placement courses in underprivileged schools and bolsters the supply of teachers who are able to teach A.P. math, science, and foreign language courses.

Altogether, the America Competes Act is a major step forward in meeting the economic challenges of the future, but we can't rest on our laurels. Congress must use the attention drawn by "Competitiveness Week" to advance legislation that strengthens our long-term prosperity.

By making the R&D tax credit permanent, increasing the visa system to attract and retain the brightest minds in critical fields, and fully funding the initiatives set forth in the America Competes Act, we will have a better-educated workforce, enhanced research, and produce more ground-breaking innovation. I am committed to passing these measures to advance our economy for generations to come. Our future depends on it.

Kay Bailey Hutchison is the senior U.S. Senator from Texas. Readers may contact her via telephone at 210-340-2885.