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FAQ: STEM Action Center Proposal

davidwicaiBlog, Legislature

The Utah Legislature is poised to do a bit of rearranging for state agencies, including a move for the STEM Action Center to the Department of Heritage & Arts.

The move is proposed in Senate Bill 172, which passed the Senate on Wednesday after some significant revisions. When initially proposed earlier in the session, the bill moved the STEM Center from the Governor’s Office of Economic Development to the Board of Education, but it was only revised earlier this week.

The Governor’s office spoke in favor of this bill during a Tuesday committee hearing, and it seems to have broad support in both the House and Senate. While it’s never wise to consider something a done deal, this bill seems to have a lot of momentum

A lot of specific details remain unclear and many practical questions will likely be worked out after the legislative session. But some questions can be addressed now. More information will provided as it becomes available

Why Heritage & Arts instead of the Board of Education?

STEM Action Center, while a program that works in schools, was envisioned as an “innovative” outsider that could disrupt education. That was how Stan Lockhart, who helped found the STEM Center, described it during the Senate committee hearing for the bill. He urged them to keep the center separate from the Board of Education to provide that needed independence

Why do legislators want to move it out of GOED?

The sponsor, Sen. Ann Millner, R-Ogden, has repeatedly said her bill seeks to improve economic development in rural areas. The programs selected to move out of GOED will help accomplish that goal through better coordination with other programs, although exactly how that will happen is still opaque. In large part, it will be up to all of us to continue to collaborate with each other while also including the STEM Center in our rural-focused efforts.

How many employees does the STEM Center have and what is their overall budget? Will any of that change with the shift?

The STEM Center has 13 employees, and their budget is approximately $11 million. Much of that budget is dedicated to grants, primarily for educators and education technology. Senate Bill 172 does not make any changes to the current appropriations.

Will the STEM Action Center be the seventh division within our department?

Yes.

Where will STEM Center be housed?

That is one of the biggest practical questions that remains unanswered in the long-term. Currently, they are located in the downtown tower that houses most of GOED, and they have two years worth of lease payments in that location already appropriated. As a department, space is already tight. They will stay put in their office space for now.

What happens next, and when will we know if this is really happening?

The bill has passed the Senate and will now be considered by the House. At this point, it will likely go straight to the House floor for debate next week. If passed, it would then go to the Governor for his signature. The session ends next Thursday (March 14) at midnight, so we will know within a week. If it does pass and get signed, the move would likely happen officially July 1 when most bills with a fiscal note become effective

Is this a good thing?

As a department, we are focusing on building rural communities through cultural grants and programs. Right now, that means libraries, historic preservation, volunteer services, arts, museums, youth leadership, diversity programs, and so forth. While we work in schools through programs such as Poetry Out Loud and Utah History Day, the department does not have an area where directly impact daily classroom work, so STEM Center complements our existing offerings. There are many possibilities for collaborations with STEM.