Science education got a boost in the 2018-19 state budget, but the plan stops short of funding training for teachers in California’s ambitious new science standards — something education leaders had been pushing for.
The budget, which the Legislature approved this month and Gov. Brown signed Wednesday, includes a $6.1 billion increase in funding for K-12 schools. It calls for nearly $400 million for programs promoting science, technology, engineering and math education, ranging from STEM teacher recruitment to after-school coding classes to tech internships for high school students.
But it doesn’t set aside money specifically to train teachers in the new science standards. Districts must apply for grants or use money from their general funds.
“Overall, I’d say this budget is somewhere in the middle. We’re happy to see an overall increased investment in education, but we would have preferred to have dedicated funding for (the new science standards),” said Jessica Sawko, director of the California Science Teachers Association. “It means that a lot of that work to advocate for using funds is going to have to happen at the local level.”
The standards, called the Next Generation Science Standards, were adopted in 2013. Students have begun taking field tests based on the new standards, and the results will be reported to the state beginning in spring 2019. While some districts have received grants or set aside money in their budgets for materials and teacher training, other districts have lagged.
Ideally, the budget would have funded programs specifically to implement the new standards, paying for supplies and training not only for teachers but also for administrators, school support staff, school board members and parents, Sawko said.
“It doesn’t just happen in the classroom,” she said. “Everyone needs to be involved.”
Vince Stewart, director of the California STEM Network at Children Now, called the budget “a step in the right direction, but part of a much larger conversation we need to have about STEM education.”
“Overall I’d say it’s good news. Additional investment is what we wanted to see, even if it falls short of what’s needed,” he said. “It’s an additional down payment on what we need for STEM education. All students need to have good STEM education if they want to go on to college or a career, so it’s really about access and equity. But these are big problems and they’re going to require more investment.”
Funding for teacher training is only part of what’s needed to successfully implement the new standards, he said. Money for science materials, math and science teacher recruitment, better science training for elementary teachers and higher pay are also critical, he said.
Statewide teacher shortages in math and science have led to an increase in teachers with temporary or emergency credentials, which in some districts has hindered the rollout of the new standards, according to a recent report by the Public Policy Institute of California.
Higher pay would make teaching a more enticing career choice for those with math and science backgrounds and convince at least some to stay in the career longer, especially if higher salaries meant they could afford to live in the communities in which they’re working, Stewart said.
“I never like to say money is the answer, but in this case money would make a significant difference,” he said. “We have to value teachers as professionals and pay them accordingly. They need to be able to afford to live in the communities where they work …. There’s no point in investing all this money to train teachers if they all leave after three years.”
Here’s a roundup of items in the budget that affect science, math and technology education in California:
Career and technical education: $300 million in new, ongoing funds for high school career and technical education, which includes job training for the science, math, engineering and technology fields. Half the funds would pay to expand existing programs at high schools and the other half would create a network among high schools, community colleges and industry to ease students’ transition from school to careers in technology, health science, engineering and other fields.
After-school computer coding classes: $15 million in one-time funding for after-school coding classes for students.
Teacher residency programs: $75 million in one-time funding to recruit and train teachers in areas that have shortages. $25 million is set aside for bilingual education, science, math, technology and engineering, while $50 million is reserved for special education. Residency programs allow prospective teachers to work in a classroom alongside an experienced teacher while attending classes after school and on weekends, shortening the length of time needed to earn a credential.
Early Math Initiative: $11.2 million in one-time funds to train elementary and preschool teachers in math education.
California STEM Pathways: $10 million in one-time funds for classes, professional mentoring and internships in technology, manufacturing and health care for high school and community college students.
In addition to funding in the budget, several bills in the Legislature would also benefit math and science education in California:
Golden State Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics Teacher Grant Program: AB 2186 would give $10,000 bonuses to those who complete teaching credentials in math or science and then teach at a school for at least four years.
California Teacher Corps Act of 2018: AB 2547 would allot additional money for teacher residency programs. The amounts of the grants would vary depending on the size of the school district.
State Seal of Career Technical Education Pathway Completion: AB 2979 would recognize students who complete a high school career or technical education program by awarding them a seal of merit.
California Career Technical Education Incentive Grant Program: AB 1743 would increase funding to $500 million annually for career and technical education.