Advocates of science, technology, engineering and math skills have one foot in the door of public schools. These backers of what’s also known as “STEM education” are taking another step this year.
They deserve legislative help to provide STEM-educational opportunities to more of Washington’s public school students.
Two years ago, state lawmakers approved a $2 million investment — matched by private dollars — to extend computer science education to 118,524 students in K-12 schools.
But those were just 11 percent of K-12 students who deserve courses that prepare them for technology careers and to work or live in an increasingly technological world.
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That is why Washington STEM, a nonprofit that advocated for the first round of investments in computer science education, is asking lawmakers for another $6 million over the 2017-19 biennium to expand opportunities for students. As in 2015, the advocacy group is offering to match state dollars on a one-to-one basis for a total investment of $12 million.
That sum is enough to bring STEM computer science learning to half of the state’s K-12 school population, or more than a half-million kids. According to Caroline King, chief policy and strategy officer for Washington STEM, the focus would be on access for low income, rural and underrepresented populations.
Gov. Jay Inslee provided $6 million in his proposed 2017-19 budget for this purpose. We hope the House and Senate follow suit.
Basic education funding is the Legislature’s overarching challenge this year, but this matched investment is a good deal for taxpayers.
Schools would win funds through competitive grants and receive technical assistance and training for their teaching staff.
Washington STEM and its allies in communities are also seeking $14 million to help build community-school partnerships that involve technology. Inslee has proposed $6 million.
The state STEM organization has already helped form 10 regional affiliate groups that serve as “cradle to career” community organizations. These are building career-related networks between businesses, schools and even libraries. The premise is that connecting students with career possibilities leads also to higher college enrollment and more completion of degrees and credentials.
The Regional Alliance for Youth, or RALLY, serves Thurston County as well as Mason, Grays Harbor, Pacific and Lewis counties. Coordinator Wes Pruitt said some schools are getting on board.
The Thurston Chamber is also involved in a related career-education effort. Christina Chesnut, who leads the chamber’s youth/education initiatives, said 74 businesses have uploaded their company details for the chamber’s Business2Youth Connect web site. This gives students information about mentoring, internships and career coaching.
These are all constructive steps in a state where science and technology are economic drivers. It’s not just software and biotech. Manufacturing and agriculture are seeing an increase in technology that requires workers who understand math and science concepts.
As lawmakers take up the K-12 funding challenge, there is a good case for including these investments in computer science education and curriculum.