Idaho Lawmakers Vote to Set Up New ‘STEM Action Center’

The new center would identify and coordinate best practices for STEM education in the state’s schools.

by Betsy Z. Russell, The Spokesman-Review / April 3, 2015

(TNS) -- Idaho lawmakers have agreed to set up a “STEM Action Center,” a new state office under Gov. Butch Otter that would coordinate efforts from schools to industry to promote science, technology, engineering and math in the state.

The legislation, sponsored by Coeur d’Alene Sen. Bob Nonini and House Education Chairman Reed DeMordaunt, R-Eagle, has passed overwhelmingly in both houses; on Thursday, legislative budget writers agreed to allocate more than half a million dollars and two full-time staffers to the new center next year.

An elated Nonini said he was “extremely pleased.” He said, “I know I’d asked for $2 million, but I didn’t think I could get that.”

The budget for the new STEM Action Center that won unanimous approval from the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee on Thursday calls for spending $537,300 in state funds next year, along with up to $100,000 in private donations. Of the state funds, roughly half is one-time for start-up expenses, but $289,300 is ongoing state funding, to continue each year.

“Now we need to go out and find ourselves a great executive director,” Nonini said. “It’s going to take a unique person – someone with some salesmanship, and some STEM knowledge.” He added, “We have a good model to follow in Utah.”

Utah’s STEM Action Center launched in 2013 with $10 million in state funds. Its aim is to “develop Utah’s workforce of the future.”

Idaho’s would identify and coordinate best practices for STEM education in the state’s schools; coordinate STEM professional development efforts for teachers; coordinate with industry on workforce needs and opportunities; give out grants; track progress on STEM enhancement in the state; and coordinate STEM related competitions, fairs, camps and more.

A nine-member board would oversee the new center. Its members would include the state commerce director; the state labor director; a member of the state board of education; the state superintendent of schools; and five members appointed by the governor who represent STEM-related industries.

Idaho is currently the only state that doesn’t have a statewide science competition, said Rep. Wendy Horman, R-Idaho Falls, who proposed the budget bill Thursday. Nonini said he hopes that’s something that will change next year under the new center’s leadership.

HB 302, creating the new STEM Action Center, is awaiting Gov. Butch Otter’s signature. The funding bill still needs approval from both houses along with the governor’s signature, but state agency budgets rarely change once they’re set by the joint committee.

In January, Nonini and DeMordaunt launched a “STEM Caucus” to promote STEM education, and more than two dozen lawmakers joined. The group brought in speakers including the director of Utah’s STEM Action Center, and in February, brought a rolling mobile technology lab for kids sponsored by the Micron Foundation and Discover Technology to the Capitol for lawmakers to see.

©2015 The Spokesman-Review (Spokane, Wash.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC

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