The Associated Press
COLUMBUS — While Ohio is trying to shake off its rust belt image, it must compete with other states trying to attract and keep their brightest students in the science and math disciplines.
The state’s new budget includes $100 million for scholarships to students who choose to study science, technology, engineering or math at Ohio colleges. Millions more will be spent to prepare high schoolers to study those topics in college and to train teachers to instruct advanced courses in those areas.
Ohio is hardly alone.
Arizona will provide $100 million over four years to promote bioscience programs and research. Another proposal would set aside $15.5 million for math and science education programs.
Kentucky lawmakers are considering $14 million in incentives to attract both students and teachers to science and math programs. The plan stalled this year but will be considered again next year, said Senate Majority Leader Dan Kelly, a Republican from Springfield, Ky.
Dozens of other states have similar programs or are considering ones to put more money toward promoting the sciences, such as creating more research zones like ones that are flourishing in places like the Research Triangle of North Carolina or Silicon Valley in California.
North Carolina, in particular, has benefited from increased research jobs. The state raised primary-secondary science and math standards in the early 1980s, years before other states started setting higher expectations.
Industrial states with declining manufacturing such as Ohio need to catch up with states that rely more on a research economy, said Brian Fitzgerald, executive director of the Business-Higher Education Forum, a coalition of chief executives of major American corporations, colleges and universities.
“We haven’t moved quickly enough at the federal level. States are taking their economic lives into their own hands,” Fitzgerald said.
The idea of the Arizona and Kentucky plans is to provide extra money to retain teachers in the math and science fields.
In Kentucky, a chemistry, calculus or physics teacher who meets standards spelled out in education would add $10,000 to his or her salary and would be rewarded with another $10,000 if students also met increased expectations, Kelly said.
“We are going to have to take these steps to compete. We either will lead or lag behind,” Kelly said.
Producing more math and science teachers is a daunting challenge, Fitzgerald said. Many teachers possess the skills to make much more money at private or public research facilities, he said.
“It’s a very serious long-term problem. It really starts in middle school,” he said. “We’re about 180,000 teachers short by 2015.”
Ohio’s budget includes $20 million to create academies focused on science, technology, engineering and mathematics. This should help students qualify for the college scholarships and keep them in Ohio, said House Speaker Jon Husted, a suburban Dayton Republican. An intern program that’s part of the scholarship program will allow students to get experience — and contacts — in Ohio’s research industry, which is expected to lead to in-state jobs for them, he said.
“You have to have a work force with expertise in math and science,” Husted said. “If they aren’t choosing Ohio, we’ve already lost.”