Kamala Harris Pushes Bill to Create More STEM Jobs for People of Color

California Senator Kamala Harris introduced a bill on May 2 that would help provide educational opportunities in the science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields for students of color.

The 21st Century STEM for Girls and Underrepresented Minorities Act will help provide STEM education programs for girls, LGBTQ students, students of color, and students with disabilities, according to a statement. Harris said the US will face a shortage of approximately one million STEM professionals by 2025 and wants to make sure there are people of color and minorities working in the field.

“When we have more women, people of color, LGBTQ folks, and people with disabilities in STEM jobs, we get better results,” Harris said in the statement. “Preparing our nation’s students for the jobs of the 21st century starts in the classroom, and we must ensure that the benefits of that education are shared equally with those who are currently underrepresented in STEM professions.”

The bill would create a $40 million competitive grant program for school districts that improve participation in STEM education by providing tutoring, mentoring, and after-school programs that encourage building interest in the STEM subjects. The bill would also educate parents about the STEM field, provide subsidies to schools to help minimize the costs of STEM-related education materials and equipment, and provide “professional development services to teachers, principals, and other personnel aimed at reduced racial and gender bias.”

The proposed legislation has been co-sponsored by Senators Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Jacky Rosen (D-Nev.), and Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), according to the statement. Other supporters include the American Federation of Teachers, Girls Who Code, National Society of Black Engineers, Hispanic Heritage Foundation, Out in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics, and many other organizations. Congresswoman Joyce Beatty (D-Ohio) introduced a companion bill in the House of Representatives in March.

“We need a highly trained workforce — hardworking individuals from all walks of life — ready for the jobs of tomorrow,” Beatty said in a statement. “This is essential to ensuring US competitiveness and leadership in a rapidly changing global economy…. My bill would help close the employment gap by broadening the STEM pipeline to African Americans and women who have been historically underrepresented in these fields — creating a larger, more diverse STEM talent pool that our nation so desperately needs.”

In April, Harris, along with a group of Democratic lawmakers, introduced a bill to combat sexual harassment in the STEM fields. The Combating Sexual Harassment in Science Act of 2019 will look into policies that “reduce harassment and encourage interagency efforts,” according to a press release.

That bill followed a study published last year which found that 58 percent of women in STEM had been sexually harassed, according to the press release. If passed, the bill would create a new program through the National Science Foundation to help combat sexual harassment in STEM fields. It would also authorize $17.4 million to annually fund the program's research.

“As the daughter of a barrier breaking woman in STEM research, I know the importance of ensuring more women enter and excel in this field,” Harris said in a statement. “As more women enter STEM fields, we must do more to ensure appropriate steps are taken to change the workplace climate and prevent sexual harassment. By shining a light on sexual harassment in STEM, this legislation is a step in the right direction to fostering an environment across STEM where everyone is safe and able to achieve their full potential.”

About the Author

Maria Perez is a breaking news writer for The North Star. She has an M.A. in Urban Reporting from the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism. She has been published in the various venues, including Newsweek, Juvenile Justice Information Exchange, City Limits, and local newspapers like The Wave and The Home Reporter.