Statehouse roundup, 1.14.19: Lawmakers face a $1 million gap in STEM requests

The head of the state’s STEM Action Center downplayed a $1 million gap between her budget request and Gov. Brad Little’s recommendation.

Angela Hemingway

Grants and industry donations should help plug the gap, and fund a state computer science initiative, Angela Hemingway told the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee Monday.

“Businesses are showing they’re willing and able to step in,” she told budget-writers.

In the coming weeks, JFAC will have to write a budget for the 4-year-old STEM Action Center — an offshoot of the governor’s office, designed to promote education in the lucrative fields of science, technology, engineering and math. That means the committee will have to decide how to fund the computer science initiative.

The center sought $2 million in ongoing money for the computer science initiative, which helps pay for teacher training, grants for schools, regional STEM fairs and scholarships for students to attend computer science camps. Little requested $1 million in one-time money, and it would go into a separate STEM Education Fund.

During her presentation, Hemingway ran budget-writers through a flurry of numbers — some encouraging, others sobering.

  • On the plus side, the center anticipates $1 million in cash donations from industry this budget year, covering about a fifth of its operating budget. In its first year of operations, the center collected $72,000 in industry contributions.
  • The center used its money to pay for more than 12,000 “educator interactions,” helping teachers better communicate with students about STEM jobs, Hemingway said.
  • Idaho still has an “astonishing” backlog of more than 6,300 unfilled STEM jobs, Hemingway said. Filling these vacancies would create more than $400 million in payroll, and pump an additional $22 million into state tax coffers.
  • The demand for STEM workers could mushroom in the years to come. Within the next five years, the state’s STEM sector could increase to 100,000 jobs, paying $6.5 billion and generating $350 million in taxes.

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