Assembly fails to pass science education bills

BY NIDHI SHARMA
STAFF WRITER
THE CAPITAL NEWS SERVICE

The General Assembly failed to pass three bills relating to science education, the only bills of their kind over the past two years.

SB17, proposed by Sen. Bill Stanley (R-Moneta), would have ensured donations made by Science, Technology and Mathematics-based organizations to impoverished public schools were used for STEM purposes. The bill passed Senate but failed to pass a House subcommittee.

Del. Bob Marshall (R-Manassas) drafted bill HJ615, which would have directed the Joint Commission on Technology and Science to convene an advisory committee to study the opportunities and challenges related to the adoption and use of robots, automation, and artificial intelligence. The bill was tabled in the Committee on Rules.

The third bill, HB2173, written by Del. Kathleen Murphy (D-Mclean) with bipartisan support, would have established a maximum class size of 24 students in science laboratory classes in grades six through 12. The bill was also left behind in Appropriations.

“STEM education is critical to create a skilled work force,” Stanley said. “It is essential that businesses are attracted to the Commonwealth to create jobs for citizens, who pay taxes that better our society.”

Stanley said he was inspired to write the bill through his work with Sen. Dick Saslaw (D-Springfield) to advocate for school choice, a cause that would allow low-income students to attend the school of their choice, Stanley said, whether that is public or private.

“As history progresses, there is more of a need for education that focuses on science and technology,” he added. “We must focus on STEM education in every part of Virginia.”

Bill Holt, activities director at Thomas Jefferson High School in Richmond, also emphasized the value of a STEM education.

“I think it’s extremely important,” he said. “On a scale of one to ten, it’s an 11.”

When asked about bill SB17, Holt stressed that donations made for STEM purposes were effective only if the funds are monitored to ensure they’re not diverted elsewhere.

“This is the 21st century education,” Holt said. “You want skills that will make you marketable in the work force.”

Samy M. El-Shall, chair of the Department of Chemistry at Virginia Commonwealth University, was passionate in his support for STEM education.

“Our economy is moving in the direction of technology,” he said. “Most jobs these days have to do with newer and newer technologies, so you need a STEM background at least.

“Even if you’re planning on going into finance, or business, science is still important.”

El-Shall, however, was less animated when it came to discussing how obtainable STEM education was to students both wealthy and underprivileged, at every level of education.

“I don’t think STEM education is accessible to the best degree,” he said. “We need to strengthen education at the high school level; we need to focus on math and science.”

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