STEM Action Center creation likely

Legislative committee appropriates funding toward education hub

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Reese Kinnerson, 6, takes one giant leap, launching an air-powered, paper rocket to the “moon” at Fernan Elementary Wednesday, December 18, 2013 after Shelley Best, right, with the Discovery Center of Idaho taught students about overcoming the challenges of space travel. Fernan Scince, Technology, Engineering and Math programs could benefit from a bill that establishes a STEM Action Center in Idaho and is funded by the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee.

Many spokes have formed around Idaho's STEM education in recent years, and a hub for those spokes is coming through the Idaho Legislature.

The Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee on Thursday agreed to appropriate $650,000 in the first year toward the creation of a STEM Action Center.

"It will be exciting to get this off the ground," said Sen. Bob Nonini, R-Coeur d'Alene, who sponsored the bill with Rep. Reed DeMordaunt, R-Eagle. "Idaho has a lot of good things going on with STEM and this center, under the direction of the Governor's Office, will give those a high-visibility hub for coordination and professional development."

JFAC decided to appropriate around $200,000 per year after the first toward the action center.

An appropriations bill - the last hurdle in the Legislature - will be considered by legislators early next week before it arrives on Gov. Butch Otter's desk.

Nonini said he doesn't see anything that would thwart the effort.

The action center would be staffed with an executive director and an assistant. It would be governed by a nine-member board. The board would include representatives from the Department of Commerce, Department of Labor, State Board of Education, office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction and five members appointed by Otter.

The center would coordinate STEM-related activities statewide, lead professional development activities, align public education STEM activities with higher education STEM activities and seek funding opportunities.

The center would be patterned after one in Utah.

"We don't need to re-invent the wheel because Utah has a good model," Nonini said.

Nonini and DeMordaunt organized the Legislature's STEM Caucus earlier this year to explore how to increase the focus of STEM disciplines. Several business leaders around the state, including Lorna Finman of LCF Enterprises in Post Falls, have supported the creation of the center.

Nonini said he read a Coeur d'Alene Press article a year ago about an upcoming increase in demand for students with a STEM background. That, and other articles on STEM he read, made him realize there's a need for an action center to better prepare Idaho for the future.

Nonini said the center should not only benefit education, but economic development and business recruitment as well.

The bill passed the full House last week 62-2 with six legislators absent. It passed a Senate committee 28-7 on Tuesday.

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