Future of MathScience Innovation Center uncertain due to lack of funding

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HENRICO COUNTY, Va. (WRIC) — The future of the MathScience Innovation Center could be in jeopardy after three major school districts decided to pull their funding.

Chesterfield, Hanover, and Henrico school boards voted Tuesday night to pull their money from the center. Richmond Public Schools has also proposed cutting funds.

Chesterfield County School Board members say they want to use the money for instructional opportunities in the county, closer to families residing in the area.

Hanover County cited state budget cuts in the decision but said students would still get science and technology education in their schools.

That worries Hollee Freeman, Executive Director for The MathScience Innovation Center.

“This is a tragedy and the good work that the center has done over the past 52 years will not continue and I think people are upset about that,” Freeman said.

Parents have told Freeman that they’re concerned for their students because most schools in low-income areas do not benefit from a resource like the MSiC.

But a bigger problem, Freeman told 8News, is how the counties went about cutting the funding. She said the center received a short notice.

“There is an issue about the defunding of the center, but there’s also an issue about not having communicated properly about what the center could do differently to better support divisions,” Freeman said.

Freeman added that they are still planning to continue operations for the next school year. However, the MSiC will be working in a greatly reduced level in Petersburg, Hopewell, Colonial Heights, and other counties.

8News reporter Nick Conigliaro reached out to school boards for their statements. Check them out below.

Statement from Chesterfield County Public Schools:

Last year, we reduced our funding down to $200,000, and the budget adopted by our School Board will eliminate any futher funding. This decision was made in order to pursue instructional opportunities that would serve more of our students and would be closer to our families (as this facilitiy is in Henrico).

Shawn Smith

Director of Government, Policy and Media Relations

Statement from Henrico County Public Schools: 

The MathScience Innovation Center is not a Henrico Schools program. Before the large Richmond-area school divisions left, it had been a viable regional consortium. Because fewer students and staff members from Henrico were accessing the program, the division carefully began to examine how our investments could better meet student needs. On Nov. 9, in preparation for the budget process, we sent the MSiC a letter making them aware of our internal budget discussions so they could prepare and respond accordingly.

Input from our community is always a critical part of our decision-making. There were multiple opportunities to hear from constituents as the budget was being developed. These included a budget presentation in each of Henrico’s magisterial districts as well as constituent meetings with School Board and staff members to discuss their concerns that arose about our departure from MSiC. After hearing from the community and prioritizing division needs, the proposed budget was made public on Jan. 24 by the Board at its meeting and on our website.

Rest assured that students won’t be missing out on opportunities as a result of this decision. The school division is committed to expanded investment in STEAM education, so that more Henrico students can benefit. This long-term commitment is reflected in current and previous budgets.

For example, we’ve made a $6 million investment in STEAM teaching positions over the past two years, and that’s in addition to other investments in curriculum development, professional learning for our staff, supplies and hardware. This investment brings STEAM teaching and learning to more schools than ever before. In other words, we’re putting STEAM education in every school, every day, and our commitment is significantly more than the $1.1 million each year in funding for the MathScience Innovation Center. A small percentage of Henrico students has been receiving STEAM education at MSiC – less than 2 percent in the case of Saturday and summer programming and less than 45 percent of K-8 students for in-school field trips. We can now provide robust STEAM instruction to all our students, and in their own schools. For example, in the past, for students to engage in coding courses, parents needed to register and transport them to the MSiC. Now, students are exploring and engaging in coding on a regular basis within their classrooms.

Best regards,

Cean Gilliland

Communications Specialist – Activities & Events

Statement from Hanover County Public Schools:

Good evening, HCPS Families,

At the March School Board Meeting, the superintendent, Dr. Michael Gill, shared his recommendation to the School Board that Hanover County withdraw from the regional MathScience Innovation Center (MSiC).  The Board will consider this recommendation at its next meeting on April 9.  This recommendation was developed after two key factors became evident. 

The first key factor was a substantial loss in state funding through the General Assembly’s budget process.  Hanover County Public Schools is targeted to lose $491,000 in funding from the original proposed governor’s budget as compared to the budget passed by the General Assembly.  Inevitably, this resulted in our staff revisiting all major components of our budget and having to make difficult decisions.  If the Board chooses to accept Dr. Gill’s recommendation, the important features of our budget will still be supported.  Funding for mental health, behaviors, and school counseling; support for students with disabilities; and providing our employees with a 3% raise will be preserved.

We anticipate that, along with some attrition savings, the action of withdrawing from the MathScience Innovation Center, will cover the lost funding without jeopardizing initiatives on the School Board’s adopted budget.  It will also result in some limited additional savings, which can be applied back to the area of Curriculum and Instruction, specifically in the area of support for our curriculum specialists.

Secondly, due to the MSiC’s ongoing funding challenges, their model of service will be substantially changing.  Regrettably, the new models being discussed are not as advantageous to our students as the current model.

In recent years, HCPS has maintained a focus on relevant and innovative learning.  To that end, I am pleased to share with you that many new Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) labs have been created in our schools, and our instructional leaders continue to grow expertise in providing hands-on learning experiences in these areas.  Our in-house expertise will allow our students to continue to enjoy engaging and integrated STEM learning.  As always, HCPS remains committed to providing rich experiences for our students in all areas, and we will continue to explore best practices for doing so moving forward.

Best,

Jennifer E. Greif
Assistant Superintendent for Instructional Leadership

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