(TRENTON) – Legislation sponsored by Assembly Democrats Troy Singleton, Benjie Wimberly, Celeste Riley, Marlene Caride, Dan Benson and Annette Quijano to enhance science, technology, education and math (STEM) education in New Jersey’s schools and better prepare students for the 21st century workforce was approved Thursday by an Assembly panel.
“There is a shortage of STEM workers, yet the demand for STEM jobs continues to grow. Here in New Jersey, we need to fill more than 269,000 jobs in STEM by 2018. We are simply not keeping up with the demand,” said Singleton (D-Burlington). “These are good, high-paying jobs. We must expand STEM education in New Jersey if we want our students to be able to compete; especially in schools where students lack the same access to the resources needed to be successful in these fields.”
The bill (A-940) establishes the four-year “New Jersey Innovation Inspiration School Grant Pilot Program” in the Department of Education. The program would award grants to school districts to support non-traditional STEM teaching methods for students in grades 4-12, 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.
“These are the jobs of the future,” said Wimberly (D-Bergen/Passaic). “We should strengthen STEM education in our classrooms so our students, especially those who are grossly underrepresented in these fields, are not just mere consumers but producers of the next technological innovation.”
“Seven of the 10 projected fastest-growing occupations over the next ten years are in STEM fields,” said Riley (D-Cumberland/Gloucester/Salem). “It is essential that we enhance STEM learning so our students will be better prepared once they reach college and have to compete for these jobs.”
“The underrepresentation of girls in STEM is troubling, especially when they have pioneers like Ada Lovelace and Grace Hopper to look up to,” said Caride (D-Begen/Passaic). “We should be working to increase access to STEM, especially among our girls who are getting left behind.”
“We are lagging behind other countries when it comes to STEM education, which places our students at a disadvantage,” said Quijano (D-Union). “It is imperative that we improve how we deliver STEM education to our students so they will have the chance to compete for these lucrative jobs.”
“STEM majors earn some of the highest salaries among workers with college degrees,” said Benson (D-Mercer/Middlesex), who himself has degrees in Physics and Science & Technology. “If we want our students to succeed in these fields, we need to do a better job of making STEM an important and substantial part of their early education.”
Under the bill, a school district may submit to the commissioner an application that includes a description of how the school district will establish STEM teaching programs that use a non-traditional STEM teaching method, identify and recruit partners and mentors to help implement these programs, and support teachers and participants. The application must also contain information on how the district will assess the impact of the STEM teaching programs on participating students.
Under the pilot program the commissioner 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 the northern region of the State, two to districts in the central region, and two to districts in the southern region. In awarding the grants, the commissioner would 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 have four years to use the grant funds.
A school district that receives a grant must use the funds to: promote STEM education and career activities; purchase supplies needed for participation in non-traditional STEM teaching programs; finance the expenses of student participation in regional and national nonprofit STEM competitions; and provide incentives and stipends for teachers involved in non-traditional STEM teaching methods outside of their regular teaching duties.
Lastly, the bill establishes 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 percent of the grant amount. In addition, the district must secure matching funds or in-kind contributions from corporate donors or other private sector donors in an amount equal to 25 percent of the grant amount.
The bill was advanced by the Assembly Education Committee.