Garnering public funding for STEM-based education can be difficult and time consuming. Many STEM promoters know that it takes persistence and savvy to lobby for a portion of state taxpayer dollars. To find out more about the process, we contacted Caroline King, chief policy and strategy officer for Washington STEM, and asked about her organization’s recent successes:
Q: STEM education in Washington state has received increased funding from the state legislature. Tell us about the legislation that was approved and what it aims to do.
A: In 2016, the Washington legislature, along with the governor, Jay Inslee, sustained ongoing STEM education investments and prioritized new ones. Here’s a list of what happened:
- Budget Increases STEM Degree Production and Equity: We thank the governor and the legislature for sustaining investments for post-secondary STEM degree production for underserved students through the Washington MESA (Mathematics, Engineering, Science Achievement) Community Colleges program. Students in the MESA Community Colleges program were more likely to persist, transfer to a university and earn a STEM-related bachelor’s degree than other underrepresented students pursuing STEM studies at these colleges. The budget fully funds Washington MESA programs on six community college campuses, a promising step toward expanding the proven program throughout the state’s Community and Technical College System.
- State Implements Computer Science Education Grants and STEM Capital Pilot Program: Computer science supports critical thinking, creativity and collaboration and exposes students to the fastest growing jobs in the state, yet few K-12 students have access to computer science. Schools also struggle to provide high-tech environments to support teaching and learning in STEM subjects. In the 2015 session, the governor and legislature recognized these needs and created state funding for computer science education and STEM capital construction. This spring, Washington STEM partnered with the Office of the Superintendent for Public Instruction (OSPI) to distribute $2 million in state funding (with a required $2 million private match) to establish computer science programs throughout the state, and we are in the process of awarding $11.9 million to support STEM capital needs throughout the state. While the legislature added parameters to the STEM Capital Pilot Program this session, the overall goals of the program remain unchanged.
Q: What specific groups/programs will be helped with this funding?
A: Students served by a variety of education service districts, schools and nonprofits across the state will be supported by the computer science education funding and the STEM Capital Pilot funding. You can find specifics here:
- Washington STEM and OSPI Announce First Round of $4 Million in Grants to Support Computer Science Education
- Washington STEM and OSPI Announce Second Phase of $4 Million in Grants to Support Computer Science Education
- State Grants Create New STEM Learning Spaces
Q: How will your organization be involved in the efforts that will be funded?
A: Washington STEM has worked with the state Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction to review and issue grants for computer science education and STEM capital grants. We have also offered support to raise funding for the private matches for computer science education.
Q: How long will this funding last? Why is that important?
A: At this point, the computer science and STEM capital funding was issued for the two-year 2015-17 budget cycle. We’re working with the state legislature to renew and increase funding, as the state funding for computer science, for instance, covers only 11% of students in the state. We’d like to make sure every student has access to state-funded quality computer science education.
Q: What was Washington STEM’s involvement in writing/promoting/lobbying for this funding legislation?
A: Washington STEM has been deeply involved in promoting STEM education efforts to the legislature. We work with a wide range of partners in education, business and the community to determine key cross-sector priorities for legislative funding. We then work with our regional networks to identity legislative support and meet with legislators to establish a plan. When communicating with legislators, we always strive to show need, impact and value for their specific legislative district.
Q: What have you learned from efforts to acquire such state funding? What would you tell other STEM groups looking for dollars from their state legislatures about a successful approach?
A: Working to acquire state funding is a long game. We have found it is key to work with regional networks to build ongoing relationships to identify and support community needs. The state can and should be a crucial partner in supporting STEM education, and, as with any other supporter, it is key to identify their interests and needs, address them and move forward in order to support Washington students.
Q: Do you have projects in mind that you will be promoting in your state legislature in 2017? Will you change your lobbying approach in any way?
A: This year our legislature is tackling education in a major way, as lawmakers must respond to a state Supreme Court case requiring them to fully fund basic education. We’re continuing our lobbying approach as we have in the past (see our accompanying 2017 legislative agenda). However we find it even more crucial to work in coordination and collaboration with our local and state partners.
Q: Is there anything else you would like to share about the importance of state funding for STEM?
A: We’re thankful for the work of the governor and our bipartisan legislative partners – their leadership is creating pathways for students who previously did not have access to STEM. We look forward to a busy and interesting legislative session!