New York should invest in STEM education for all children

By Jake Adler |  

March 2, 2017 |  

(Judy Sanders / Governor's Office)

Earlier this month, Gov. Andrew Cuomo signaled his priorities for the 2017 legislative session with this simple declaration: “Education is a right, not a privilege.” Gov. Cuomo was talking about his college tuition proposal, but his statement applies to all children at all levels of education.

For most children, K-12 education will determine the course of their lives: Whether they get into and attend a good college, whether they get a decent-paying job, whether they can provide for themselves and their families, whether they have the basic skills to be a contributing adult member of society.

When we deny a child a quality education, we deny him his future.

In today’s technological world, a quality education must include top-notch training in what are known as STEM fields – science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.

STEM jobs are the fastest growing in the country at a rate of 17 percent compared to 10 percent for other industries. STEM workers earn more on average compared with non-STEM jobs. And STEM employees are on the front lines of some of the most important innovations in the world. Training our students to be the best in STEM will allow them to compete on the global stage.

To the governor’s credit, he has talked extensively about investing in New York STEM programs. In 2013, Gov. Cuomo created the Masters Teacher Program to provide STEM teachers with annual stipends to encourage a growing legion of top-notch STEM educators.

This year, the governor proposed investing an additional $2 million in the Masters Teacher program. He also proposed a partnership between schools and private sector technology companies to boost the number of high school level computer science courses taught in New York State.

But as we focus on investing in K-12 STEM education, we need to make sure all children can benefit – including those in nonpublic schools.

Too often, nonpublic schools are treated like the ugly step sister at the family dinner. Too often, these schools are left out of the education funding equation.

Our public school system works for so many children across New York state, and we should continue to push for the best public school system possible. But for many students, public school is not the best option.

Nonpublic schools serve more than 400,000 K-12 students in New York and come in all shapes and sizes. They are both secular and religious, serve students raging from low-income to high-income, and run the gamut on specialization and education philosophies.

These schools exist because no two children are the same. Every child has unique strengths and needs. Some children perform better in smaller, personal settings. Some children thrive in non-traditional environments that focus on specialized curriculum. And some children need something else entirely.

These students play an equally important role in our education system and the future of our state. They deserve the same education opportunities, the same investment, and the same hope as their counterparts in public school.

If we are serious about training the best STEM teachers and giving our children the best chance at success – we most do so for all children, regardless of income, race, ethnicity, or the school they attend.

We all have a vested interest in building first-rate schools with students who excel at science technology, engineering, and mathematics. These children will go on to design our buildings, work in our hospitals, perform vital research in our laboratories, build our vehicles, and design tools that keep us safe at home and abroad.

In the past, the legislature has shown a commitment to helping all students in New York’s education system. Let's work together to meet the new challenges of the 21st century for our children. Let's prepare them to be the engineers, builders, and innovators of our great American future.

Jake Adler is the director of government affairs at Teach NYS, a project of OU Advocacy.

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