By Trish Graber
TRENTON – Legislation sponsored by Senate Education Chair M. Teresa Ruiz that would broaden access and encourage student interest in fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) through a program that would award grants to eligible school districts in the state to fund innovation designed to elevate these subjects was approved today by the Senate.
“In the coming years, New Jersey will experience an increased demand for workers that are skilled in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. We have to ensure that our residents are prepared for employment in these sectors and are able to compete for the positions with their counterparts in states across the county and around the globe,” said Senator Ruiz (D-Essex). “Expanding STEM programs in our school districts and encouraging more students to study these subjects will ensure that our students are better equipped for employment in a high-tech, 21st Century economy.”
According to a 2011 STEM jobs report by the George Washington University Center on Education and the Workforce, New Jersey will demand a total of 248,250 STEM jobs by 2018, up from 223,190 in 2008. The National Science Board’s 2010 Science and Engineering Indicators report found that only 5% of American graduates major in engineering, compared to 20% total in Asia and about 33% in China. Other studies have shown that the United States ranks last or next to last in 12th grade mathematics and science scores.
The bill (S-225) would establish a four-year “New Jersey Innovation Inspiration School Grant Pilot Program” within the Department of Education. Under the pilot program, grants would be awarded to school districts to support non-traditional STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) teaching methods for students in grades 9 through 12, support the participation of students in nonprofit STEM competitions, foster innovation and broaden interest in careers in STEM fields, and encourage collaboration among students, engineers, and professional mentors.
Through the pilot program, the commissioner of Department of Education would award a total of six one-time, up-front grants of up to $150,000 each. Two grants would be awarded to districts located in each of the northern, central and southern regions of the state. In awarding the grants, the commissioner would have to give priority to applications from districts that intend to target activities in a rural or urban school, a low-performing school, or a school or school district that serves low-income students. The districts would be permitted to use the grant funds for a period of up to four years.
The bill would also establish the “Innovation Inspiration School Grant Fund” within the Department of Education to provide grants to school districts under the pilot program. A school district that receives a grant would have to provide district matching funds in an amount equal to 25% of the grant amount. In addition, the district would have to secure matching funds or in-kind contributions from corporate donors or other private sector donors in an amount equal to 25% of the grant amount.
“We are lagging behind other nations when it comes to math and science education while other countries push ahead,” said Senator Ruiz. “Expanding offerings in our high schools and encouraging student collaboration with professionals in the field will go a long way to help prepare our students for the jobs of tomorrow that we know are in these critical areas.”
The Senate approved the bill by a vote of 37-1. It next heads to the Assembly for consideration.
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