Murphy announces new STEM education initiatives

Phil Murphy, like governors before him and in other states, is a big booster of STEM education. Tuesday he came to Belleville High School in Essex County to announce the first grants under his Computer Science For All Initiative.

“I’m proud to announce today that 29 school districts are being awarded these grants. It’s a total of $2 million and it will cover 900 seats,” Murphy said.

He pointed to a study that said there were 23,000 computer science job openings in the state in 2015 and only 1,100 people qualified to fill them.

“Today is about creating the New Jersey that innovative companies will look to and where our young people will want to stay to build their careers and families,” Murphy said.

In addition to the $2 million in grants to high schools, Murphy announced a nonprofit called Math for America is launching a privately-funded fellowship program for elementary school math teachers to improve their skills. And he announced the state Department of Education would shift $13.6 million in federal funding to low-income districts for a range of programs including STEM.

“We’re aligning curriculum with the available jobs. We’re aligning a curriculum with the high-growth industry and we’re opening the doors for women and men who are underrepresented in the fields,” State Sen. Teresa Ruiz said.

Belleville is one of a handful of districts with its own advanced computer science academy.

“The computer science program has not only become a source of inspiration for me, but it has helped prepare me to for my future career,” said Dimas Campos, a Belleville High School student and president of its computer science club.

Murphy’s announcement was well received in the room.

“It’s part of what the governor is trying to do in making New Jersey a really competitive state, so all the people understand, yes, our taxes are a little higher, our cost of living is a little higher, but what you get for that is something really important, which is a highly trained, qualified workforce and a place that people want to live,” said Essex County Education Association President Anthony Rosamilia.

“We have computers and we have technology courses, but we don’t have computer science. We don’t have individuals sitting there dedicated to coding. We have pockets of that throughout the state, but we’re trying to blanket the state to make sure there are jobs in the future and we’re preparing our students for jobs in the future,” said Education Commissioner Lamont Repollet.

“This isn’t a ton of money, but it brings more kids into the program, it brings more attention to the program, which is certainly needed, especially in schools where funding pressures are going the other way,” said NJ Spotlight education writer John Mooney.

Murphy said one of the best things about this initiative is that state funding provides only 15 percent of the total needed. With budget season looming, the governor is watching his pennies.