Foster pushes bill to connect students with math, science jobs
AURORA — U.S. Rep. Bill Foster was in town Wednesday with Aurora education and business leaders to sell a new jobs bill that would aim to connect students with training needed to pursue careers in math, science and technology.
The STEM Competitive Jobs Act legislation would provide competitive grants to school districts that connect students and their coursework with future employers.
The bill would help prepare students for careers in high-demand technical fields by supporting collaboration between schools and employers, Foster said Wednesday at Aurora University.
The bill would urge school districts to provide students with the science, technology, engineering and math skills they need to be successful in the workplace, he said.
“Despite high unemployment levels, many employers tell me they can’t fill jobs because they can’t find workers with the training and education they need,” Foster said. “This legislation would help bridge that gap.”
In order to receive a grant under the proposed bill, a school district would be required to work with a local, regional or national employer and a college or university to develop the curriculum and program metrics. Programs awarded grants would also have to include an internship or apprenticeship component, and must be dual-credit so students receive both high school and college credit for their coursework.
Providing students with workplace experience and college credit would improve their ability to compete in the workplace while encouraging them to continue their education, Foster said.
The bill aims to address employment concerns outlined in a report by Pathways to Prosperity, a Harvard initiative to bring educators and local high-tech employers together to collaborate on curriculum and internship opportunities.
Foster said that the nation’s student debt crisis is in part caused by a gap in education needed for students to pursue STEM careers.
“A lot of that has to do with the fact that we’re not aligning the student training that we’re providing with the jobs that are really there,” he said. “One way to do this is to beef up STEM education because that’s one area that we know there are jobs today and will be jobs in the future.”
Arlene Hawks, executive director at SciTech Hands On Museum in Aurora, said that a parent demand exists for early STEM curriculum. The museum’s STEM preschool program was so successful in its first two years that the school will offer kindergarten next year, Hawks said.
Foster introduced the 21st Century STEM Competitive Jobs Act last week in Washington, D.C., along with a number of House co-sponsors.
The bill does not outline how much funding would be allocated to the competitive grants.
“The specific amount would have to be worked out as the legislation progresses,” said Megan Jacobs, a Foster spokesman.
Aurora University is pursuing multiple sources to fund the last $5 million of a $12.5 million planned STEM school on its campus, said Rebecca Sherrick, Aurora University president. Those sources include applying for grants from private foundations, lobbying for public funds and soliciting in-kind donations to fund the third- through eighth-grade STEM academy, she said.
Sherrick said she expects AU officials will have “positive news” on the funding front to announce by the end of the summer.