(TRENTON) – Legislation sponsored by Assembly Democrats Troy Singleton, Wayne DeAngelo, Marlene Caride, Raj Mukherji and Jamel Holley to enhance science, technology, education and math (STEM) education in New Jersey’s schools and better prepare students for the 21st century workforce was released earlier this week by an Assembly panel.
The bill (A-2195) would establish the four-year “New Jersey Innovation Inspiration School Grant Pilot Program” in the state Department of Education. The pilot program would award grants to school districts to support non-traditional STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) teaching methods for students in grades 4 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.
“This program can help broaden and encourage student access and interest in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics order to advance our competitiveness and innovation in these fields,” said Singleton (D-Burlington). “The reality is that we are lagging behind other countries when it comes to STEM education, which places our students at a disadvantage if they want to pursue these fields professionally. Employment opportunities in STEM fields are only expected to grow. If we want our students to be able to compete, we have to expand STEM education in New Jersey.”
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.
“Job opportunities in these fields are projected to increase over the next decade,” said DeAngelo (D-Mercer/Middlesex). “We have to do a better job of making STEM a substantial part of early education in our schools so students will be better equipped to compete for these jobs.”
“There is concern that American students, compared with their international counterparts, may not have the necessary skills or education to enter into a STEM field,” said Caride (D-Bergen/Passaic). “If we want our students to succeed in these fields, we have to invest early.”
“Biotech and high-technology businesses play a key role in our state economy,” said Mukherji (D-Hudson). “It is vitally important that the state support programs that ensure that our students have the educational foundations that will help them advance to a career in those industries.”
“These are the jobs of the future. Unless we make a concerted effort to strengthen STEM education in our classrooms, our students will get left behind,” said Holley (D-Union). “Enhancing STEM education in our schools will give our students the edge that others already benefit from.”
Under the pilot program the commissioner will award a total of six one-time, up-front grants of up to $150,000 each. Two grants will 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 will 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 will be permitted to use the grant funds for a period of up to four years.
A school district that receives a grant is to 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.
The measure was advanced by the Assembly Education Committee on Sept. 19.