Editorial: A Baton Rouge budget compromise — and some grandstanding_lowres

Sen. Sharon Hewitt, R-Slidell.

Louisiana's bid to increase the number of students pursuing careers in science, technology, engineering and math is getting a $300,000 boost.

The fields, known by the acronym STEM, were the subject of a day-long conference on Sept. 7 that brought together state lawmakers, education and business leaders.

One of the highlights of the gathering was the announcement of the new aid by Chris Broadwater, vice-president for workforce policy in the Louisiana Community and Technical College System.

Broadwater, a former state lawmaker from Hammond, said Thursday part of the $300,000 will be used for regional marketing aimed at students considering STEM fields.

The advertisements would spell out STEM programs offered at nearby colleges, jobs available when students finish the requirements and what those jobs pay.

Broadwater said most STEM jobs offer starting salaries of $44,000 to $58,000 per year.

The injection of new dollars is a joint project by LCTCS and the state Department of Education.

The source of the funding is federal aid, known as Perkins funds that are often used to promote career and technical education for high school students.

Monty Sullivan, president of LCTCS and state Superintendent of Education John White came up with the idea.

What the state spends now on STEM is unclear.

It is supported by a variety of funding sources, including the Minimum Foundation Program that provides basic state aid for public schools as well as funds that finance supplemental courses and career development.

Last week's gathering was an outgrowth of the LaStem Advisory Council, which was created to increase the number of students pursuing careers in engineering, digital media and other areas, especially by women.

Sen. Sharon Hewitt, R-Slidell, who sponsored the 2017 legislation that set up the council, said part of the $300,000 could be used to offer grants in robotics and other areas.

"This summit was intended to help everyone see the big picture, get everyone excited and on the same page," Hewitt said. "There is a lot of different things that we could do with the money."

Hewitt echoed Broadwater's comments about using a regional approach to spark interest among students in science and other fields.

The new push would would be an expansion of what the state already does.

The LCTCS website – lctcs.edu – includes a page on STEM that says "Louisiana's Workforce Needs Strong Women Like You."

It includes information on STEM-related jobs, what they pay and a form for students to get information on programs and careers at nearby colleges.

About 500 people attended the meeting.

The 29-member council is crafting a statewide STEM plan, including career opportunities.

It also makes recommendations to the Legislature.

"It is such a bipartisan issue," Hewitt said of last week's gathering. "It crosses all demographics. People are excited. They are excited about the opportunities."

Follow Will Sentell on Twitter, @WillSentell.