Valley STEM programs to get priority in state funding

Assemblyman Devon Mathis’ bill gives priority to proposals in rural and disadvantaged areas to help bridge the diversity gap in science, technology, engineering and mathematics related fields

SACRAMENTO, CALIF. – STEM programs in low income, rural areas will be given priority for state funding following a law passed by local Assemblyman Devon Mathis.

Authored by Mathis (R-Porterville), Assembly Bill 1923 was signed into law by Gov. Gavin Newsom on July 19. The bill requires California’s superintendent of public instruction to prioritize any new partnership academy proposals in areas such as Tulare County addressing pupils traditionally underrepresented in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) programs or professions.

“For too long, students in rural and disadvantaged communities have severely lacked access to quality STEM programs,” said Mathis. “STEM programs have a proven track record of educational success and better prepare students for the jobs and careers of the future.” 

As STEM partnership academies are developed, AB 1923 will address access to quality STEM programs by prioritizing proposals benefitting students traditionally underrepresented in STEM, such as women, people of color and low-income students.

The Senate Floor analysis of AB 1923 refers to a 2021 report by the Pew Research Center. The report gives examples of STEM jobs seeing uneven progress in increasing gender, race and ethnic diversity. STEM programs are equally accessible across the state and in too many cases race, zip code and socioeconomic status determine the availability of quality STEM programs, according to Mathis’ office. 

Justin Bowman, Mathis’ chief of staff, said as a result of this new law, there should be more STEM programs making their way to the Central Valley.  

“This is not going to guarantee more placements, however, priority must be given to the Central Valley and regions that are currently without STEM programs,” Bowman said. 

AB 1923 was passed unanimously through the Assembly and the Senate.  Assemblyman Mathis said he was grateful for the bipartisan support he received for this bill and the key role it plays in addressing education gaps in rural areas lacking access to high quality STEM programs. 

“Additionally, I am grateful for the support received by a wide array of professions and stakeholders, showcasing the issue of access to quality educational programs to be one that is not partisan, but essential,” Mathis said. 

The bill has several supporters including the City of Tulare. On June 7, Mayor Dennis Mederos sent a letter on behalf of the city in support of Mathis’ bill. Mederos said it is very important to the city that this bill requires a specific concentration on schools with an enrollment of socioeconomically disadvantaged pupils as well as districts in a rural or economically disadvantaged area. 

“It is very important to us, not only the city of Tulare, but also Tulare County itself,” Mederos said. “What we find most attractive about the program is the ability to have teachers have a continuing relationship with their students over several years and see to it that they’re guided in the right direction, as it relates to different disciplines.”

The partnership academy model uses a team of teachers working with the same group of students year after year. Instruction is aligned across disciplines, while an employer provides internships and learning opportunities outside the classroom, according to analysis.

The California Manufacturers & Technology Association (CMTA) applauded Newsom for signing the bill. 

“California manufacturers are leaders in STEM fields and technologies that are influential in supporting pathways for educational opportunities,” Lance Hastings, president and CEO of CMTA said. “However, we know there are challenges in accessing these programs. AB 1923 will help alleviate these challenges in the future by giving prioritization to our disadvantaged and underserved communities and providing more pathways of opportunity to high paying jobs.”

In addition to the City of Tulare and CMTA, AB 1923 is supported by the American Society of Civil Engineers, California Association of Professional Scientists, California Chamber of Commerce, Office of the Riverside County Superintendent of Schools and Project Lead the Way.

Mathis was the primary author of the bill, but had several co-authors, according to Bowman. 

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