Senate hears bill, omits funding for METS education

Thursday, March 4, 2010 | 12:01 a.m. CST

JEFFERSON CITY — The University of Missouri System president has called on the state to provide matching funds for science, technology, engineering and math programs. But on Wednesday something was lost in translation.

UM System President Gary Forsee testified before the Senate Education Committee in support of a bill that would establish the Missouri Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics Initiative and create a fund to process donations supporting the program. But under the terms of the proposed bill, the state would not be obligated to provide matching funds for these donations.

Forsee outlined five goals of the initiative:

  • Hire additional faculty in these areas
  • Create scholarships or loan forgiveness for students in these areas
  • Increase pre-college summer camp programs
  • Enhance the quality of current teachers
  • Improve lab equipment

The state could match private donations to support the initiative, but that money would have to be approved by legislators and the governor through the appropriations process.

Forsee said the state's budget situation would likely preclude state support in the near future.

Gov. Jay Nixon began meetings with legislators Tuesday to cut hundreds of millions of dollars from the fiscal year 2011 budget. The budget for the fiscal year 2012 will have a nearly $1 billion hole when federal stabilization funds expire.

But the bill's sponsor, committee chairman Sen. David Pearce, R-Warrensburg, said the bill is important for the message it sends.

"I think more than anything else it shows — if it passes — it shows that the state is very serious, that it is a priority of ours," he said.

Pearce added that the bill would still encourage private donations and he is optimistic about the bill's success.

Forsee told the committee that Missouri ranks in the lowest 25 percent of all states in awarding college degrees in METS (Math, Engineering, Technology and Science), and Missouri's fourth-graders rank in the bottom third nationally in math skills.

"It's not acceptable that our state and certainly the country continues to slip further behind," Forsee said. "The jobs that we think about in the future of economic growth in our state will tend to be around engineering, math, and science skills."

Sen. Gary Nodler, R-Joplin, expressed concern that the funds could support foreign students, who make up a large percentage of graduate students in these fields.

Forsee replied that the aim of the program would be to keep graduates in the state of Missouri and that financial support could be provided with the stipulation that recipients remain in the state for a certain period of time after graduation.

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