BOISE – 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 and 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. Thursday, legislative budget writers agreed to allocate $537,000 and two full-time staffers to the new center next year.
Nonini said he was “extremely pleased.”
“I know I’d asked for $2 million, but I didn’t think I could get that,” he said.
The budget for the new STEM Action Center that won unanimous approval Thursday from the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee calls for spending state funds and up to $100,000 in private donations next year. Of the state funds, a little less than half is one-time for start-up expenses, but $289,300 is ongoing state funding.
“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.
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 the governor’s signature.
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