Friday, January 13, 2012

Week In Review

State Capitol Week in Review

LITTLE ROCK – Fifteen Arkansas school districts and one technical center will receive money to expand and innovate course offerings in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).

The grants were awarded under a program called STEM Works. The long range goal is to better prepare students in the fields that are most likely to provide well paid and secure jobs, now and in the future. STEM Works helps local high schools pay for the technology needed in modern classrooms. It also helps state colleges train a new generation of teachers who will work in technology fields.

Pilot projects were announced last summer, when Cross County High School in Cherry Valley and Lincoln High School in Washington County became the first "New Tech High Schools" to follow the STEM Works model.

At the time, state education officials said they wanted to add 10 more schools to the program, so they were pleased to announce last week that they have added 15 new schools and the technical center.

The Northark Technical Center, which serves 14 school districts in north Arkansas, will offer classes in engineering and biomedical sciences, with an emphasis on how those subjects are used in real workplaces. It is called "Project Lead the Way." Also receiving money to initiate "Project Lead the Way" are these school districts: Gravette, Jonesboro, Prairie Grove, Riverview and Star City.

Nine districts will join Cross County and Lincoln as schools in the "New Tech Network." Students will learn technology through hands-on projects, rather than using traditional classroom methods.

The nine districts are Arkadelphia, Dumas, El Dorado, Highland, Hope, Marked Tree, Riverview, Russellville and Van Buren. They will each receive $150,000. Cross County and Lincoln, the existing schools in the New Tech Network, will get $75,000. The districts in Project Lead the Way will get varying amounts of up to $95,000.

Another model that STEM Works will promote is based on the successes of the EAST Initiative in numerous Arkansas high schools. That stands for Environmental and Spatial Technology. Various state agencies have allocated $2.25 million for the STEM Works program and private industries have donated significant amounts.

Tiered Lottery Scholarships

The Senate and House Education Committees will look into changing how lottery scholarships are awarded, with a mind to encouraging students to stay in college to earn a degree. Currently, eligible students receive lottery scholarships in the same amount for up to four years. Students at four-year universities get $4,500 and those at two-year colleges get $2,225 a year.

With tiered scholarships, students would get greater amounts each year. Before the lottery scholarship program was established, Academic Challenge Scholarships used to be tiered. Freshmen received $2,500, for example. If students maintained the required grade average, they would get $3,000 as a sophomore, $3,500 as a junior and $4,000 for their senior year.

Legislators will look at how such a plan would affect lottery scholarship financing, and perhaps introduce a bill to establish tiered scholarships in the 2013 regular session.

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