Los Angeles targeted for first state-run STEM school

A state legislator is eyeing downtown Los Angeles as home to the first state public school focused on teaching students from low-income and ethnically diverse areas science, technology, engineering, and math.

State Assemblyman Raul Bocanegra, D-San Fernando, has introduced legislation that would establish the school that would serve 800 students in grades 6 through 12. The bill (AB 1217) will be heard Wednesday by the Senate Education Committee.

“We are seeing a growing number of good-paying, STEM-sector jobs in California that require advanced STEM degrees,” Bocanegra said in a news release. “Developing a rigorous, high-quality state-sponsored STEM school will give students, regardless of their background, the tools to succeed in STEM fields.”

The school would be overseen by the state superintendent of public instruction. It would be governed by a non-specified nonprofit organization, according to the text of the bill. Because it is a state school, the Legislature and governor must sign off on the bill to establish the school.

State Assemblyman Raul Bocanegra, D-San Fernando, with students from Pacoima Charter Elementary School. (Courtesy: Raul Bocanegra’s office)

Bocanegra said employers are having trouble recruiting employees from the region with needed skills and there is a lack of diversity in the workforce in industries that include software coding, engineering, medical research, pharmaceutical development, and others.

“It should alarm everyone that less than six percent of Silicon Valley tech engineers are African-American or Latino,” said civil rights attorney and advocate Constance L. Rice in the news release. “A California STEM School committed to enrolling a racially, ethnically, and socioeconomically diverse student body reflective of the demographics of Los Angeles is exactly the kind of innovative, intentional project our city needs.”

The school would be funded with philanthropic support from foundations, individuals, and STEM-industry partners, according to Bocanegra, in addition to state per pupil funding. The donors have not been specified.

The school will need to complete a plan that explains how students will be educated and how it will operate. If the Legislature passes it and the governor signs the bill, the plan must be adopted by the school’s governing body in a public hearing no later than 90 days before the opening of the school. If the deadline is missed, a plan can be submitted for the 2019 school year as well.

The school does not have to receive any approval from LA Unified because it will be a state school, Bocangera’s spokesman Eric Menjivar said Monday.

When asked why Los Angeles was selected for the site, he said, “There’s a large pool of untapped potential in the Los Angeles area and a lack of access to schools that focus on STEM subjects, especially for families that are underrepresented.  This legislation will provide students with a chance to have a career in a STEM field, which is a growing sector for good-paying jobs in California.”

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