An initiative promoted by Gov. Mike Beebe (D) to meet worker demands in high-tech fields announced that 15 Arkansas school districts have qualified for a new pilot funding program.

The Governor’s Workforce Cabinet will fund 15 districts throughout the state and one technical center as the first participants in the administration’s STEM Works initiative.

The purpose of the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) program is to help ensure that the state’s workforce will be able to meet the escalating demand for workers in high-tech employment fields. Another project goal is equipping Arkansas colleges with the tools they need to better educate future K-12 teachers in these core subjects.

STEM Works specifically seeks to overhaul the ways in which Arkansas high school students receive STEM education and to increase the number of well-qualified STEM teachers.

“We’re proud that a diverse range of schools applied to participate in our STEM Works program,” Beebe said. “In Arkansas, education and economic development must work hand in hand to build the strong workforce so important to our state’s future prosperity. These schools will be leaders in this work.”

The districts and the tech center were designated by the cabinet to participate either in Project Lead the Way or the New Tech Network. The New Tech high school model integrates STEM education and extensive project-based learning throughout the curriculum. Project Lead the Way includes several introductory courses in engineering or biomedical sciences that show how basic concepts taught in the classroom are used in the work world.

“Our goal was to have 10 STEM Works schools for the 2012-2013 school year and we’ve surpassed that,” said Arkansas Education Commissioner Dr. Tom Kimbrell. “We’ll all work together to make sure these schools are successful and can be models for schools seeking to participate in the future.”

Joining Project Lead the Way are Gravette, Jonesboro, Prairie Grove, Riverview, and Star City. The Northark Technical Center, which serves 14 districts in northern Arkansas, was also chosen for Project Lead the Way.

Named as New Tech districts were Arkadelphia, Dumas, El Dorado, Highland, Hope, Marked Tree, Riverview (which was also chosen for Project Lead the Way), Russellville and Van Buren.

Lincoln and Cross County began participating in New Tech this school year, and they were also awarded grants by the cabinet as part of STEM Works.  On Monday, Cross County and Lincoln each were granted conversion charters by the State Board of Education, which will help provide flexibility to operate New Tech programs.

New Tech schools will receive $150,000 each while Lincoln and Cross County, as existing New Tech schools, will each receive $75,000.  Project Lead the Way schools will each receive varying amounts up to about $95,000, depending on need.

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Roby Brock
Roby Brock is the Editor-in-Chief and Host of Talk Business & Politics. He can be reached by e-mail at Roby@TalkBusiness.net. Follow him on Twitter: @RobyBrock.