Lawmakers approve bills to expand STEM funding and access

Lawmakers approve bills to expand STEM funding and access

(Calif.) Science, technology, engineering and mathematics education could expand significantly under a handful of bills moving through the California Legislature.

SB 1243, by state Senator Anthony Portantino, D-La Canda-Flintridge, would create a career training model that calls for K-12 schools, colleges and industry professionals to develop partnerships that provide students with mentorship opportunities and access to college level technology courses and college degree credits while in high school.

Meanwhile, AB 2186 from Assemblyman Tony Thurmond, D-Richmond, seeks to create a one-time $200 million competitive grant fund for STEM education programs to help local educational agencies implement new, or expand existing, strategies that address need for teachers of STEM subjects.

And AB 1743, authored by Assemblyman Patrick O’Donnell, D-Long Beach, would establish ongoing funding for CTE programs in K-12 schools at $500 million per year. The bill received bi-partisan support from about 25 lawmakers who signed on as co-authors, but stalled in the Assembly’s appropriations committee largely because of assumptions that the governor was prepared to add in the money through the budget process.

The bill was resurrected following the release of Gov. Jerry Brown’s revised May budget.

Brown proposed in January to add $200 million in ongoing support to help local education agencies develop or expand CTE programs that are aligned with in-demand industries and regional workforce needs, and his revised plan did not put any additional funds into the program.

“I am grateful for the overwhelming support we have received for this effort, and I am confident that AB 1743 is the best next step forward for our students and the California economy,” O’Donnell said in a statement after the Assembly passed his bill. “Career Technical Education prepares our students for lasting careers and strengthens our California workforce.”

The Legislature has in recent years allocated $500 million for the California Career Pathways Trust grant program as well as $900 million for Career Technical Education Incentive Grants.

The CTE Incentive Grant program began in 2015-16 with an appropriation of $400 million. Lawmakers provided $100 million less in each of the past two years.

O’Donnell, who is a member of the Assembly budget subcommittee on education finance and chair of the education committee itself, noted that although the Legislature has allocated significant funding for CTE in recent years, those funding streams are due to expire, while the need for the programs remains strong.

AB 2186 presents a short-term fix for STEM funding as it relates to preparing educators to teach such courses. The bill would create a $200 million grant fund for STEM education program for LEAs to expand current or implement new methods to address the chronic teacher shortage in STEM subjects and ensure teachers are prepared to teach students of all ages–something Thurmond has called vital to preparing children for future careers in those fields.

The bill also includes money to promote STEM education in rural school districts. Through the STEM Education for Rural Schools Grants Program, one-time competitive grants would be provided to rural LEAs to deliver professional development for STEM teachers and school leaders to develop high-quality, standards-based STEM coursework for their students.

Meanwhile, SB 1243 would adopt a career training model in California based on a successful program implemented in Brooklyn in 2011 that advocates say may increase the number of students earning degrees in various fields of technology.

The P-TECH model–which was also adopted last year in Maryland and Texas–calls for partnerships between K-12 schools, colleges and industry professionals that provide students with mentorship opportunities, as well as access to college level technology courses and college degree credits while in high school.

Advocates for career and STEM education have said that the program called for in the bill will need money in order for students to see the same sort of benefits as those in other states which have implemented it.

For instance, when lawmakers in Maryland passed a bill last year to adopt the state’s own P-TECH model, it came with $855,000 included in the FY 2018 operating budget for planning, hiring staff, supplemental college, and supplemental school grants. In Texas, where a similar program was adopted, lawmakers limited the total grant award amount to $5 million for the 2018-19 biennium.

While Portantino’s bill expresses the intent to seek funding as part of the state budget, a spokesperson for the senator said there is no specific amount yet specified that will be sought after. According to a Senate Appropriations Committee analysis of the bill, it could result in one-time Proposition 98 General Fund cost pressure of between $15 million to $21 million–though a precise amount would depend on the allowable grant size as well as the number of grantees to be selected.

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