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Ranking Member Frank Lucas Urges Committee to Pass Rural STEM Education Act

Nov 14, 2019
Opening Statement

Thank you, Madam Chairwoman.

I am pleased to be leading this important bipartisan bill to improve STEM education in rural communities. I’d like to thank you, Congressman McAdams and Congressman Baird for working with me in developing it.  H.R. 4979 continues this Committee’s long bipartisan history of supporting and expanding STEM education for all.

As the Members of this Committee know well, for the U.S. to remain competitive in the global economy we must have a workforce skilled in science, technology, engineering, math, and computer science. The demand for these skills is so strong, in fact, that employers are struggling to fill open jobs.

In Oklahoma, for instance, our universities have doubled the size of their engineering programs but still can’t keep up with demand.  Even after the most recent class entered the job market, there were still more than 2,000 open engineering jobs in the state.  Over the next decade, the STEM shortage is anticipated to reach one million positions, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics

Meeting this demand starts in elementary school.  With STEM education becoming so fundamental to success in any industry, finding ways to improve the quality of STEM learning everywhere is of critical importance.

Over nine million students in the United States – nearly 20 percent of the total K through 12 population – attend rural schools.  In Oklahoma that number is even higher – one-third of our students attend rural schools.

These students face a number of barriers to accessing high-quality STEM learning, including a shortage of trained science and math teachers, single teachers teaching multiple grade levels, a lack of access to advanced STEM courses, and few local university and industry partners.

The “Rural STEM Education Act” supports research and development activities at the National Science Foundation to improve our understanding of the challenges rural communities are facing in providing and sustaining quality STEM education programs and takes steps to address them.

This bill includes a number of provisions to provide rural educators with the tools they need to be successful.  It supports opportunities for rural educators to refresh and enhance their own STEM knowledge, such as computer science training or participation in research opportunities at Federal Laboratories and universities. 

These experiences will provide rural educators with high-quality STEM skills and practices that they can take back to their classrooms and pass onto their students.

A major focus of the bill is broadening the participation of rural students in STEM.  For example, the bill supports place-based learning.

Rural students have direct access to physical sciences every day in their communities. Place-based learning connects students to the science that’s right outside their doors – whether its studying animal science out at the farm with FFA or learning about the local ecosystems out on the prairies and in the forests.

That direct experience engages students and helps them understand that STEM skills matter to everyone – not just scientists in white lab coats.

H.R. 4979 also helps develop best practices for accessing and using computer-based and online STEM education courses. 

Finally, the bill takes steps to address one of the key obstacles to rural STEM education – reduced connectivity and, particularly, the lack of broadband access.  Of the 21 million Americans who lack access to broadband, the majority live in rural areas. 

The bill directs the National Institutes of Standards and Technology to establish a prize competition to advance innovative technologies for broadband connectivity deployment in underserved rural communities.  It also codifies a working group to set key research priorities for improving broadband access so many rural communities can enjoy the same connectedness as the rest of the country.

Taken together, the measures in the bill will improve rural STEM education.  I believe rural areas represent one of the greatest, yet underutilized, opportunities for STEM education to enhance the United States’ future STEM workforce.

I am pleased this bill has gained the endorsement of the STEM Education Coalition, Battelle and STEM-X, the National Science Teaching Association, the American Chemical Society, the Girl Scouts of the U.S.A., Microsoft, and the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities. 

At this time, Madam Chair, I request that the letters of support for H.R. 4979 I received from the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities and the American Chemical Society be entered into the record.

I again would like to thank Chairwoman Johnson, Representative McAdams, and Representative Baird and their staff for working with us on this bill.  I look forward to moving this bill in the House and the Senate, and I urge my colleagues to support it.

I yield back.

116th Congress