Rosen, Wicker Introduce Bipartisan Legislation to Improve Access to STEM Education in Rural Areas

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senator Jacky Rosen (D-NV), a member of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) and the Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, alongside Senator Roger Wicker (R-MS), announced their introduction of the Rural STEM Education Act. This bipartisan legislation would direct the National Science Foundation (NSF) to support rural STEM education and workforce development through grants for research on teaching STEM in rural schools, barriers rural students face in accessing STEM education, and solutions to improve the participation of rural preK-12 students in STEM. This bill would also direct the U.S. Commerce Department’s National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) to establish a prize competition to stimulate innovations in technologies to deploy broadband connectivity to unserved rural communities and establish a working group to set key research priorities for improving broadband access in rural communities.

“The coronavirus pandemic has underscored the need to address the lack of resources available to our rural communities–especially when it comes to technology,” said Senator Rosen. “I’m proud to introduce this important piece of legislation that will support research and development activities to better understand the challenges rural communities are facing in providing quality STEM education programs. I will continue working on forward-thinking legislation to give our students the education and training they need to succeed in a 21st-century economy.”

“As employment opportunities in STEM fields increase, it is critical that we provide rural schools the resources necessary to offer quality STEM education and prepare students for today’s workforce,” said Senator Wicker. “I am glad to join my colleague Senator Rosen in leading this effort, and I look forward to seeing our bill advance.”

“To succeed in the 21st-century economy, our students need to be equipped with strong science and engineering skills,” said Craig Rosen, Director of the Nevada STEM Networks. “We applaud Senator Rosen’s commitment to ensuring that our rural communities receive the skillsets to set them up for success by introducing the bipartisan Rural STEM Education Act to provide teachers with more resources and training in STEM, engaging students through hands-on education, and increasing access to broadband. Through these efforts, we can ensure the state of Nevada and our nation is adequately preparing our future STEM workforce.”

BACKGROUND: According to a recent report from The Rural School and Community Trust, more than 9.3 million—or nearly one in five students in the U.S.—attend a rural school. Rural schools face unique barriers to providing STEM education, including a shortage of science and math teachers, high teacher turnover, lack of reliable broadband, and difficulty accessing online and computer-based technology.

The Rural STEM Education Act would:

  • Help develop best practices for accessing and using in-person and online STEM education courses.
  • Help rural schools combine online STEM education with hands-on training and apprenticeships to give students both theoretical and practical understanding of science and math skills.
  • Take steps to address one of the key obstacles to rural STEM education – reduced connectivity, and, particularly, the lack of broadband access.
  • Provide opportunities for rural educators to refresh and enhance their own STEM knowledge, such as training in computer science or research opportunities at federal laboratories and universities.
  • Help broaden the participation of rural students in STEM by encouraging partnerships with local businesses and institutions of higher education, and emphasizing place-based learning, which gives students direct access to the STEM knowledge present in their communities and local environment.

The Rural STEM Education Act is endorsed by the STEM Education Coalition, Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU), Microsoft, and the American Chemical Society.