Gov. Mike Parson and Missouri’s legislature recently changed course on a couple of senate bills over the week, changes that will impact how middle and high school students can choose their classes.
In a boost for Missouri’s science, technology, engineering and math education, Senate bill. 894 was one of two bills passed last week.
The bill calls for the adoption of an online program that teaches sixth through eighth grade students about careers in STEM.
The bill also changes what classes a student can choose to take, allowing a high school students to use a computer science course as a substitute for any math, science or practical arts unit needed for high school graduation.
Passed at a legislative review called the special session, the meeting was initiated by Parson to re-review two Missouri bills that had been vetoed.
Parson had initially vetoed the STEM bill early this year, believing that the bill’s language improperly favored one company to handle the online program.
Professor and Chair for the Department of Mathematics and Statistics Christine Benson is supportive of the bill, as long as proper procedures and requirements are laid out.
“It’s an exciting field, and I think it’s wonderful, not just with computer science but with all of the STEM things,” Benson said. “It helps kids see the neat things they can do so they can then picture themselves in that field.”
Like Missouri Sen. Jill Schupp, Benson raised questions about the bill’s rule allowing a student to substitute a math, science or practical art for a computer science course in high school.
“The idea that it’s OK to replace a year of math with a computer science, I have said people need that strong foundation in math,” Benson said. “Typically the data shows that when you have people who don’t take a high school math class, then they typically struggle more with it when they get to college.”
The bills states that schools will be required to inform students about certain universities that require four credits of high school math before they forego a math class for computer science.
According to the U.S. Economic and Statistics Administration, over the last decade, employment in STEM occupations grew six times faster that occupations not in STEM.
Jobs in STEM fields grew by 24 percent, versus only 4 percent for jobs not in STEM fields.
STEM workers are also taking home more money, earning 29 percent more than their non-STEM counterparts in 2015.
Northwest computer science professor Douglas Hawley thinks that Missouri is trying to create a highly skilled, highly trained and educated workforce by passing the bill.
“It’s trying to make Missouri more successful and make it a better place to work and open businesses and launch new innovative companies,” Hawley said. “If you really want to interest companies to come here, they’re going to look for states that have a ready workforce that can do the highly skilled tasks.”
Hawley also spoke about how impactful the online awareness program can be for those who might not know what options exist.
“Many students have come to college and they sort of know what computer science is but they really don’t have a grasp of what they can do with it,” Hawley said. “I think that would help that a lot.”
Northwest has more than 75 STEM-related majors that a student can potentially learn about in an online program.