Angela Hemingway JFAC 1-13-20

Angela Hemingway, executive director of the STEM Action Center, addresses the Idaho Legislature’s Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee on Monday, Jan. 13, 2020.

Pointing to the rising number of jobs dependent on science, technology, engineering or mathematics across the state, the Idaho STEM Action Center asked the Legislature for an 8 percent budget increase for the next year.

Angela Hemingway, Ph.D., director of the STEM Action Center, asked the Joint Finance Appropriation Committee for just under $6.15 million in funding for the 2021 budget when she presented to them Monday morning. In the last budget, the agency received $5.67 million.

The number of unfilled STEM jobs in Idaho has doubled since the Action Center began tracking them in 2016, increasing from 3,813 that year to more than 7,600 last year. Hemingway told the committee that those unfilled jobs, calculated from the Idaho Department of Labor’s monthly report about job postings, translated to more than half a billion dollars in unpaid wages to Idaho workers and $27 million in state tax revenue.

“As (Gov. Brad Little) tweeted, Idaho has the second-highest economic growth in the nation. With that comes a lot of additional STEM jobs that we need to figure out how to fill,” Hemingway said.

Her presentation included a state Department of Labor estimate that by 2026, Idaho would have more than 100,000 jobs in STEM-related fields. Idaho currently has around 85,000 workers that fall into those STEM careers.

One area of the center’s achievements that Hemingway focused on was the growing participation in computer science classes. There was an 11 percent increase in the number of teachers providing computer science lessons during the 2018-2019 school year.

“That translated into an 18 percent increase in the number of students taking computer science courses. These are real numbers that are directly impacting our educators and our students,” Hemingway told the Committee.

That growth in the computer science classes has happened as the center’s funding changes from one-time appropriations to a smaller but more consistent budget. Two years ago, the state budgeted $2 million for the program’s initial push; this year, Little has recommended an ongoing cash amount of $500,000, which Hemingway said was a big deal for the stability of the center’s projects.

“Right now, we can run a professional development program and get that data saying that it was successful, but we couldn’t plan on what we wanted year two to look like. With an ongoing budget we can begin to dig deeper,” Hemingway said.

Lawmakers have already signed off on an increase in how much of the center is authorized to spend, doubling the limit from $1 million to $2 million. Hemingway said the STEM Action Center currently has more than $500,000 in funding and grants that it is not authorized to spend and that the increase would make it easier for them to compete with other states for million-dollar grants.

Idaho STEM Action Center is hosting a “STEM Matters” event at the Capitol building from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Wednesday to demonstrate the range of projects that it helps to support across the state.

Brennen is the main education reporter for the Post Register. Contact him with news tips at 208-542-6711.