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Schatz Introduces Legislation To Modernize Schools And Expand Stem Education To Rural Areas

Rural Schools Struggle To Offer High-Quality STEM Courses, Less Than 30 Percent Teach Computer Science

WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Senator Brian Schatz (D-Hawai‘i) introduced the Inspiring New STEM Professionals by Investing in Renovation of Education Spaces (INSPIRES) Act. The growth of jobs in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields has outpaced all others. However, due to lack of resources, schools serving rural and Native American communities face greater challenges in providing students with a strong STEM education and preparing them for growing workforce demands. This legislation will provide new federal funding opportunities to modernize and repair STEM and career and technical education (CTE) facilities across the country.  

“We are continuing to see STEM job growth outpace all others, but rural and remote schools have a harder time keeping up with the demand,” said Senator Schatz. “Our bill will give educators more resources to upgrade their facilities and expand access to STEM education.”

More than nine million students – nearly 20 percent of all K-12 students – attend rural schools. Yet, many of these students do not have access to core and advanced STEM coursework because school facilities are out of date and in need of repairs. Currently, less than 30 percent of rural schools teach computer science.

STEM education is critical to America’s economic competitiveness and our national and environmental security. Over the last ten years, the growth in jobs requiring STEM skills was three times faster than growth in non-STEM jobs. While a wide range of jobs across all sectors—including manufacturing, agriculture, natural resources management, and health care—increasingly demand significant STEM knowledge, there is a projected gap between STEM jobs available and well-equipped employees. Less than half of fourth, eighth, and twelfth grade students achieved a level of proficient or higher on mathematics and science assessments.

The INSPIRES Act will improve the quality and availability of STEM and CTE instruction by providing grants to local educational agencies (LEAs) and community colleges for much-needed improvements to facilities. It would also require that at least 25 percent of the funds available be directed to high-need LEAs or to community colleges that serve a significant number of rural students.

Schatz’s legislation is cosponsored by U.S. Senators Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Jacky Rosen (D-Nev.), and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.).

The INSPIRES Act has been endorsed by a number of organizations, including the American Association of Community Colleges, American Chemical Society, American Federation of Teachers, American Indian Higher Education Consortium, Association of American Colleges and Universities, Hawai‘i Science Teachers Association, National Association of Counties, National Indian Education Association, and National Science Teachers Association. A full list of endorsing organizations can be found here.

“In Hawai‘i, our youth in rural communities and/or from Native Hawaiian populations are greatly underserved in terms of access to quality laboratory spaces, hands-on experiences, and practical applications in the field. The INSPIRES Act directly aligns with our organization’s mission of closing not only the achievement gap in our schools today but also the opportunity gap,” said Sheri Fitzgerald, President of Hawaii Science Teachers Association.

“Filling well-paying jobs that require skills related to STEM with well-educated workers is costly but necessary to ensure the nation’s workforce pipeline remains competitive in the global market. Community colleges serve 40 percent of the nation’s undergraduates by providing access to high quality educational opportunities that are affordable and relevant in today’s modern workforce. The American Association of Community Colleges supports the INSPIRES Act and its commitment to community college STEM education.  The legislation is designed to ensure that the sophisticated and essential technical education offered by community colleges is conducted in modern, state-of-the-art facilities. Technical training is particularly expensive and merits this targeted federal investment, especially considering the strong economic benefits for individuals as well as the local economy,” said Dr. Walter G. Bumphus, President and CEO of the American Association of Community Colleges.

For a copy of the bill, click here. A summary of the bill is available here.