ALBANY -- The state's leading business group, normally an opponent of big government spending programs, is urging New York to spend $50 million on a new scholarship fund to get more qualified math and science teachers into the state's public schools.
The Business Council of New York State, with an eye on increasing global competition and a lackluster upstate economy, is pushing a new plan to have the state provide scholarships worth up to $20,000 apiece to New York college students who major in science or math and then agree to teach in a public school in New York for at least five years.
The plan envisions five years of financial assistance to help the students earn both their undergraduate and master's degrees in the subjects.
"We're looking around the world and seeing China is graduating 600,000 engineers this year, India is graduating another 300,000, and here in the United States we're graduating 70,000 engineers," said Robert Ward, director of research at the Public Policy Institute of the Business Council.
"Being successful in business depends on having smart people, and New York's history has benefited from a great work force, but the world is catching up and in some cases passing us," Ward said.
"We have to do an awful lot better at educating our young people in science and math," Ward added.
The group said the state should also offer math and science teachers who agree to work in high-need school districts, such as Buffalo, a $10,000 annual stipend.
The Business Council said additional well-trained math and science teachers are especially needed in middle and high schools. It said studies have shown American fourth-grade students scoring well in math and science compared with students in other nations, but that the trend reverses itself by the time American students are in the eighth grade.
In New York, the need is particularly acute. More than half of New York's high schools report vacancies in math, biology and other science teaching positions, the business group said.
The group estimates that, when fully implemented, about 2,500 scholarships a year would be awarded to undergraduates and to teachers who work on their master's degrees while working in the classrooms. It borrowed the plan from an idea first proposed by the National Academy of Sciences.
"We think it's a good idea. These teachers are needed," said Tom Dunn, a state Department of Education spokesman.
The group said it also wants to work with the Board of Regents to develop a campaign to encourage more high school students to study math, science and engineering in college. It said New York now ranks 19th in the nation in the percentage of science and engineering jobs; the state, however, ranks 26th in the proportion of science and engineering degrees based on all college degrees awarded.
The Business Council said the state should also provide a 50 percent income tax credit for corporate and individuals who donate to scholarship funds for New York college students who study math, science and engineering.