Washington, D.C. – Congressman Frank Lucas (OK-03) praised the passage of his bipartisan legislation to improve STEM education for rural schools today. STEM refers to science, technology, engineering, math, and computer science, and strong STEM education is critical to America’s economic growth.
H.R. 4979, the Rural STEM Education Act addresses the unique challenges that make it difficult for students in rural areas to access high-quality STEM education. Rural schools are grappling with a shortage of science and math teachers, high teacher turnover, and difficulty accessing computer-based technology.
Lucas explained that STEM education for rural students is not an isolated problem: Nearly half of all schools are considered rural, and more than nine million students, or roughly 20% of all schoolchildren, attend rural schools. And of the 21 million Americans who lack access to broadband, the majority live in rural areas. These barriers set rural students back, making them less competitive in the evolving job market.
Lucas also noted that STEM jobs are growing three times faster than non-STEM jobs, and students who bring STEM degrees and skills to the workforce have starting salaries more than 30 percent higher than their counterparts.
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“To succeed in this job market, our students need to be equipped with solid skills in science and engineering,” Lucas said, noting that America’s economic growth depends on a STEM workforce with the skills to keep us at the cutting-edge of technological development. “Now, more than ever, America’s prosperity and security depend on an effective and inclusive STEM workforce. I believe rural areas represent one of the greatest, yet most underutilized, opportunities for talented students to enhance the United States’ future STEM workforce.”
Lucas said that COVID-19 has made this legislation even more critical. “Since the start of the pandemic, we have seen further proof that rural students are at a disadvantage given the unreliable or non-existent broadband access many must deal with while distance learning,” he said.
The Rural STEM Education Act supports rural schools by giving teachers more resources and training in STEM, engaging students though hands-on education, and increasing access to broadband.
Taken together, the measures in the bill will dramatically improve rural STEM education.
The Rural STEM Education Act was cosponsored by Science Committee Chairwoman Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX), Representative Jim Baird (R-IN), Representative Ben McAdams (D-UT), and 43 other Members of Congress.
It has been endorsed by the STEM Education Coalition, the After School Alliance, Battelle and STEM-X, the National Science Teaching Association, the American Chemical Society, the American Geophysical Union, Microsoft, the Girl Scouts of the U.S.A., National FFA Organization, and the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities.
The Rural STEM Education Act supports research and development activities to improve understanding of the challenges rural communities are facing in providing and sustaining quality STEM education programs and takes steps to address them.
H.R. 4979 helps develop best practices for accessing and using computer-based and online STEM education courses. It helps schools combine online STEM education with hands-on training and apprenticeships to give students both theoretical and practical understanding of science and math skills.
This bill also takes steps to address one of the key obstacles to rural STEM education – reduced connectivity, and, particularly, the lack of broadband access. It directs the National Institutes of Standards and Technology to establish a prize competition to stimulate innovations in technologies to deploy broadband connectivity to underserved rural communities. It also establishes a working group to set key research priorities for improving broadband access so rural communities can enjoy the same connectedness as the rest of the country.
This bill supports opportunities for rural educators to refresh and enhance their own STEM knowledge, such as training in computer science or research opportunities at Federal Laboratories and universities.
Lastly, the bill broadens the participation of rural students in STEM by emphasizing place-based learning, which gives students the direct access to the STEM knowledge present in their communities and local environment.