Yesterday, Rep. TJ Cox (D-CA-21) led a bipartisan letter with Rep. Troy Balderson (R-OH-12) urging Congressional leadership to invest in infrastructure that supports Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) education in rural and low-income areas. The COVID-19 pandemic has only worsened the inequities that affect public school students from low-income and rural backgrounds. Not only do these inequities harm students, they also strain STEM teachers facing the challenges and unfamiliar territory of online teaching without adequate training or resources.
The future of the U.S. economy and recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic will rely on STEM graduates in all job fields, from manufacturing to healthcare. Over the past decade, the growth in jobs requiring STEM skills was three times faster than growth in non-STEM jobs. However, there is a projected gap between STEM jobs available and highly skilled workers, especially in rural and low-income areas where up to one third of Americans have little or no access to the Internet. This will only get worse in the wake of the pandemic, as lost taxes and revenue will force districts to defer infrastructure improvements even further. Therefore, any future emergency recovery plan must include investment in STEM infrastructure in order to:
- Ensure that rural and low-income area schools have access to the broadband necessary for distance learning,
- Create projects that will fill the need for local jobs,
- Prepare the next generation of STEM workers, and
- Help rural communities recover after the pandemic by creating a foundation of support.
This letter has the support of the American Chemical Society, American Mathematical Society, Batelle, The Optical Society (OSA), National Science Teaching Association (NSTA), STEM Education Coalition, and STEMx.
“The American Chemical Society believes that investments in the STEM pipeline are critical to the future health and prosperity of our country. This begins in our schools, many of which are facing unprecedented obstacles to teaching and learning, particularly those in rural and underserved communities. Prioritizing investment in school infrastructure and teacher professional development and working to ensure every student has access to education, now more than ever, in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic will help close the skills gap and prepare the next generation of the American workforce.” said Luis Echegoyen, President, American Chemical Society.
“As teachers and students across the country move to the online learning environment, inequities in our education system become even more apparent. We are grateful to Representatives Cox and Balderson for leading this effort to level the playing field, by improving infrastructure for distance learning so that all students—including low-income and rural students—can pursue their interests in math and science. Investments in our teachers and students today will prepare the STEM workforce of the future,” said Karen Saxe, PhD, Associate Executive Director, American Mathematical Society.
“Battelle and STEMx applaud the bipartisan leadership of Representatives Cox and Balderson, and commend their colleagues in Congress who have signed on to this letter in support of this critical and timely issue. All across America, students and educators are falling behind due to circumstances beyond their control. The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed the many faults and inequities in our communities and our classrooms, and the time to address these challenges is now. Investing in our educational infrastructure and expanding broadband access will help ensure the delivery of high quality STEM learning both in school and at home,” said Wes Hall, Vice President of Education and Philanthropy, Battelle
“This bipartisan legislation is crucial to address gaps in STEM education in rural communities, as many Americans have limited or no broadband access, which is enabled by fiber optic technology,” said Elizabeth Rogan, CEO, The Optical Society. “Robust federal investments in the STEM education infrastructure will both improve student achievement and support the modernization of technical education facilities and high-speed internet in rural communities adversely impacted by the health crisis. The Optical Society applauds the leadership of Representatives Cox and Balderson in moving this legislation forward.”
"We applaud Representative Cox and Representative Balderson for focusing on the importance of investing in STEM education. With this pandemic our nation's science and STEM teachers were challenged with quickly learning to adapt to distance learning, and working to engage students in science investigations and engineering design beyond the traditional classroom environment. We hope Congress can provide robust funding so that we can meet the challenges ahead and continue to provide quality science and STEM education to our nation's students,” said Dennis Schatz, President, National Science Teaching Association.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the importance of technology to facilitate learning,” said Laura L. Namy, Executive Director of the Society for Research in Child Development (SRCD). “SRCD is proud to support legislation to promote STEM education infrastructure as more schools and teachers rely on distance learning.”
“We applaud Representative Cox and his Republican Colleague Mr. Balderson for leading this bipartisan effort to bring attention to the monumental challenges that our nation faces to provide our educators and their students and families with the tools they deserve. This pandemic has underscored that science, technology, engineering, and mathematics education and the critical thinking and problem solving skills these subjects foster have never been more critical. Over the coming months and years, we are going to have to get millions of Americans back to work and doing that depends on a school system with the right supports to protect students while they learn. Let’s also make sure that the next generation is prepared for the best jobs of the future,” said James Brown, Executive Director, STEM Education Coalition.
Other groups who support the letter include the American Association of Chemistry Teachers (AACT), American Association of Physics Teachers, American Indian Science and Engineering Society (AISES), American Statistical Association, AnitaB.org, Association for Women in Mathematics (AWM), Battelle, Education Development Center, Hands on Science Partnership (HOSP), Materials Research Society (MRS), National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM), National FFA Organization, National Consortium of Secondary STEM Schools (NCSSS), National Organization for the Professional Advancement of Black Chemists and Chemical Engineers (NOBCChE), Society for Advancement of Chicanos/Hispanics and Native Americans in Science (SACNAS), Society of Hispanic Engineers (SHPE), STEM Education Coalition, STEMx, and The Afterschool Alliance.
In the letter, the Members write: “A robust investment in STEM education is needed to support the tens of millions of students and teachers using distance learning. Furthermore, economic recovery will require significant additional federal resources to put people back to work and lay the foundation for future growth and prosperity. A robust investment in STEM education will create jobs and promote economic development.”
The letter was also signed by Reps. Sanford D. Bishop, Jr. (D-GA-2), Debbie Dingell (D-MI-12), Bill Foster (D-IL-11), Jahana Hayes (D-CT-5), Derek Kilmer (D-WA-6), Steve Stivers (R-OH-15), Lisa Blunt Rochester (D-DE-AL), Brenda L. Lawrence (D-MI-14), Darren Soto (D-FL-9), Brendan F. Boyle (D-PA-2), Ted Deutch (D-FL-22), Alcee L. Hastings (D-FL-20), Ro Khanna (D-CA-17), Henry Cuellar (D-TX-28), Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA-1), Deb Haaland (D-NM-1), Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX-18), Tim Ryan (D-OH-13), Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI-2), Chrissy Houlahan (D-PA-6), Elissa Slotkin (D-MI-8), David Trone (D-MD-6), Jim Costa (D-CA-16), Vicente Gonzalez (D-TX-15), David P. Joyce (R-OH-14), David B. McKinley, P.E. (R-WV-1), Bobby L. Rush (D-IL-1), Fred Upton (R-MI-6), Marcia L. Fudge (D-OH-11), Lauren Underwood (D-IL-4), and Barbara Lee (D-CA-13).
Read the full letter text here