House advances bipartisan rural STEM education bill from Lucas

The U.S. House of Representatives on Sept. 16 approved bipartisan legislation sponsored by U.S. Rep. Frank Lucas (R-OK) to improve science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education in America’s rural schools, which are grappling with a shortage of science and math teachers, high teacher turnover, and difficulty accessing computer-based technology. 

The U.S. Senate on Thursday received the bill for consideration.

“Now, more than ever, America’s prosperity and security depend on an effective and inclusive STEM workforce,” Rep. Lucas said. “I believe rural areas represent one of the greatest, yet most underutilized, opportunities for talented students to enhance the United States’ future STEM workforce.”

If enacted, the Rural STEM Education Act, H.R. 4979, which Rep. Lucas introduced in November 2019 with lead cosponsor U.S. Rep. Ben McAdams (D-UT), would direct the National Science Foundation (NSF) to support research regarding STEM education in rural schools. 

For instance, the NSF would award grants to institutions of higher education or nonprofit organizations for research and development to advance innovative approaches to support and sustain high-quality STEM teaching in rural schools; and for R&D of programming to identify the barriers rural students face in accessing high-quality STEM education, among other provisions, according to the congressional record bill summary.

“To succeed in this job market, our students need to be equipped with solid skills in science and engineering,” said Rep. Lucas, who noted that U.S. economic growth depends on a STEM workforce with the skills to keep the nation at the cutting-edge of technological development. 

The COVID-19 pandemic also has made H.R. 4979 more crucial, the congressman said. “Since the start of the pandemic, we have seen further proof that rural students are at a disadvantage given the unreliable or non-existent broadband access many must deal with while distance learning,” Rep. Lucas said.

H.R. 4979, which has 45 other House cosponsors, has been endorsed by the STEM Education Coalition, the After School Alliance, the National Science Teaching Association, the American Chemical Society, the American Geophysical Union, and the Girl Scouts of the U.S.A., among others.