Ruiz, Beach Bill to Fund Non-Traditional STEM Programs Clears Committee

Legislation Would Establish ‘New Jersey Early Innovation Inspiration School Grant Pilot Program’

TRENTON – Legislation sponsored by Senate Education Chair M. Teresa Ruiz and Senator James Beach which would establish a pilot program to fund non-traditional STEM programs for K through eighth grade students cleared the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee today.

“Our elementary and middle school students are growing up in the 21st century and will graduate high school into a 21st century economy,” said Senator Ruiz (D-Essex). “Currently, STEM jobs are increasing around nine percent per year, and will continue to do so. We must ensure our school curriculum aligns with the job market, engages students to explore these avenues and prepares them for the workforce. This legislation will allow for schools to explore creative ways to get students engaged in STEM.”

The bill, S-688, would establish the four year “New Jersey Early Innovation Inspiration School Grant Pilot Program” in the Department of Education to fund non-traditional science, technology, engineering and math programs.

“These grants will help school districts introduce programs that bring state of the art technology into the classroom and teach students to be innovators,” said Senator Beach (D-Burlington/Camden). “With the STEM field growing so quickly, it is important that students are exposed to these concepts at a young age.”

The program would award grants to school districts that support non-traditional STEM teaching methods for students in grades kindergarten through eight, and student participation in non-profit STEM competitions, among other things.

School districts applying for the grant would be required to describe how the district would implement the programs, recruit partners and mentors, and support teachers and participants. They would also have to identify how they would measure the impact of the programs.

Under the bill, the Commissioner of Education would award a total of six one-time grants of up to $150,000 each. Priority would be given to urban and rural schools, low-performing schools or school districts that serve low-income students. The selected school districts would have up to four years to utilize the grant. School districts selected would be required to match 25% of funds received and garner donations to match an additional 25%.

The grant funds would have to be used to promote STEM education, purchase supplies, finance student participation in non-profit STEM competitions and provide incentives for teachers involved in STEM programs outside of their regular duties.

The bill was released from committee by a vote of 11-0 and next heads to the full Senate for further consideration.