Senate Bill 1381 – STEM Action Center

Fred Birnbaum Uncategorized Leave a Comment

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Bill description: STEM Action Center Fiscal Year 2021 appropriation 

The Science, Technology, Engineering and Math Action Center was created in 2015 with House Bill 302. The rationale for the STEM Action Center was to promote the expansion of student engagement in STEM.

It was unnecessary for the state to create a separate government entity for STEM, rather than as a function of myriad government agencies already working in the education space. Additionally, the agency hinders, rather than helps, the formulation of private sector solutions aimed at student STEM engagement and learning opportunities. 

The fiscal note for House Bill 302 stated that the appropriation would be $2 million to cover salary, benefits, and operational costs. The actual expenditure for Fiscal Year 2016 was $547,000 in general fund dollars and that amount has quickly grown, with a Fiscal Year 2019 GF appropriation of more than $2.5 million. The $3 million general fund request for Fiscal Year 2021 ($6.1 million in total funds) includes a $500,000 request for a new computer science initiative and the description on page 6-137 of FY21 LBB is not tied to specific outcomes.

From the Legislative Budget Book:

This initiative promotes and supports increased CS activities in schools and communities, and will support the needs of educators and industry in the form of grants, outreach, and research. Opportunities supported by this initiative would include regional STEM fairs, grants to schools for CS related activities and projects, device and software grants for schools, scholarships for students to attend CS camps, and professional development for teachers.

There is a STEM action center website, https://stem.idaho.gov/about/, but no rigorous metrics are provided on the return on investment for Idaho taxpayers of the over $20 million that has been expended from FY16 through FY20.  

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Does the agency requesting these funds serve a proper role of government? Has wasteful or duplicative spending been identified within the agency, and if so, has that spending been eliminated or corrected? Does the budget examine existing spending to look for opportunities to contain spending, e.g., through a base reduction? If there is a maintenance budget, is that maintenance budget appropriate? Are the line items appropriate in type and size, and are they absolutely necessary for serving the public? Does the budget contemplate the addition of new employees or programs? Does the appropriation increase dependency on the federal government?

Our analysis is intended to provide lawmakers and their constituents with a frame of reference for conservative budgeting, by summarizing whether appropriation measures contain items that are sincerely objectionable or sincerely supportable.