State Funding Shortage Keeps Schools From Science, Math Program

By Joe Beck
Gazette Staff Writer
Thursday, February 5, 2009

A shortage of state funding has prevented three Germantown elementary schools from joining an enrichment program that encourages interest among minorities and girls in careers in science, engineering and mathematics.

Two other Germantown schools, Northwest High and Kingsview Middle, enrolled in the statewide program this school year, joining eight downcounty schools. But there is not enough money for the two schools to participate fully in all the program's activities.

Ronald McNair, Spark Matsunaga and Great Seneca Creek elementary schools abandoned their plans after learning in the summer that the program did not receive the state funding needed to complete its expansion plans in Montgomery County. The state Department of Education, the main source of support for the Mathematics, Engineering and Science Achievement program -- known as MESA -- experienced a 15 percent drop in MESA funding when the state budget was approved last year. Lack of money also prevented a downcounty school, Silver Spring International Middle School, from joining MESA this school year.

Maryland MESA's executive director, Paula Shelton, said she is trying to fend off a 10 percent cut in the program being contemplated in the fiscal 2010 state budget that is taking shape in Annapolis. The program received $76,000 from the state this year, and that would drop to $69,000.

"We're not asking for more money," Shelton said. "We're just trying to hold on to what we have."

MESA introduces students to math, science and engineering through tutoring and mentoring, academic planning and career counseling, field trips, guest speakers and participation in collaborative projects and science fairs.

McNair Elementary's principal, Eileen Macfarlane, said she hopes her school can join MESA next year.

"I haven't given up on it," she said. "Hopefully, we'll find a way to make it happen."

Northwest and Kingsview were the first upcounty schools to join MESA.

Deborah Higdon, assistant principal at Kingsview, said the state's funding shortage forced Kingsview to limit enrollment to 20 students instead of the intended 50 to 60.

Sylvia Morrison, Northwest's principal, said MESA began at Northwest in November. The program has 16 participants, but lack of money has curtailed field trips and other activities.

"The students who started in November will eventually be exposed to the full range of activities, but they may not be able to take full advantage of them," Morrison said.

Montgomery has 230 students from 10 county public schools enrolled in MESA. The first students joined the program in the 2002-03 school year, said Nancy Peckerar, the school system's co-director of MESA.

School system officials said funding for the program is divided among the state Department of Education, Montgomery public schools, Montgomery College and the National Defense Education Program.

Peckerar said the diffusion among funding sources makes it hard to estimate the Montgomery program's cost. "It's an inexpensive program that has very big benefits," she said.

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