Rural STEM education bill aims to grow workforce

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A new bill now being considered by the House Science, Space, and Technology committee aims to improve STEM education in rural areas by giving teachers more resources, engaging students though hands-on education and increasing access to broadband and grow the technical workforce.

The bill introduced in the House earlier this month would require the National Science Foundation to set up a series of grants to be awarded to institutions of higher education or nonprofit organizations that participate in research or development of solutions that support and sustain high-quality STEM teaching in rural schools. The legislation especially targets programs that provide K-12 educators in rural regions with professional learning opportunities.

There are more than two million unfilled positions in fields related to science, engineering, technology and mathematics, according to the Smithsonian Science Education Center.

“STEM careers are growing faster than any other sector. The growth in STEM careers is so strong, in fact, that employers are struggling to fill open jobs,” Congressman Frank Lucas, who introduced the bill, wrote in a press release.

In preparation for the growing workforce demands of the technology industry, the Rural STEM Education Act includes a number of provisions to help take down barriers to STEM education for students living in rural areas, which accounts for nearly 20 percent of the total K–12 population, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.

“It’s time to give rural communities the tools they need for success,” Lucas said.

The bill also directs the NSF to establish a pilot program of regional cohorts in rural areas that will provide peer support, mentoring, and hands-on research experiences for rural STEM educators.

“We’re making progress in improving STEM education, but there is more to be done,” Lucas said. “We can give our teachers more resources, make our students more competitive, and keep America at the forefront of technological development.”