Gov. Bill Lee said Wednesday that he wants to expand science, technology, engineering, and mathematics offerings in Tennessee’s K-12 schools — and he’ll set aside $4 million in his proposed budget to pay for his so-called Future Workforce Initiative.
His proposal would launch new STEM-focused career and technical education programs at 100 middle schools and would triple the state’s number of STEM-designated public schools by 2022.
“The Future Workforce Initiative is a direct response to the emerging technology industry and making sure our students are first in line to be qualified for technology jobs,” the Republican governor said in a statement.
Lee also wants to grow the number of educators qualified to teach work-based learning and advanced computer science courses as Tennessee prepares to launch its first-ever computer science standards this fall for elementary and middle schools.
“[Fifty-eight] percent of all STEM jobs created in the country are in computing but only 8 percent of graduates study computer science in college,” Lee said. “By exposing Tennessee students to computer science in their K-12 careers, we are ensuring our kids have every chance to land a high-quality job.”
The legislative initiative is Lee’s second focused on K-12 education since taking office on Jan. 19. Last week, he announced a $30 million proposal to expand access to vocational and technical training for high school students who are soon to start college or career.
In conjunction with that, Lee wants to expand postsecondary STEM opportunities in high school with greater access to dual credit, advanced placement courses, and dual enrollment.
The goal of Lee’s Future Workforce Initiative is to make Tennessee one of the top 25 states for job creation in the technology sector by 2022.
Last year, Tennessee was ranked 39th in the nation and fourth in the Southeast on technology job readiness, based on a composite index released by the Milken Institute, an economic policy think tank. When workforce was considered independent of other factors, Tennessee ranked 42nd.
During Lee’s campaign, the Williamson County businessman promised to prepare students for the jobs of tomorrow by elevating vocational and technical education in public schools. He frequently pointed to the employee training program he started at his family’s $250 million home services company, which provides plumbing and HVAC work.