Blunt, Sebelius discuss "crisis" in teaching technical subjects

Saturday, February 16, 2008

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) -- Missouri Gov. Matt Blunt and Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius warned city business leaders Friday that an expanding gap in math and science education will lead to more high-tech jobs going overseas or simply disappearing.

Speaking at the Governors' Summit on Regional Economic Development, Blunt and Sebelius said they were pushing initiatives in their respective states to encourage more students to pursue technical careers and to increase the number of math and science teachers.

Blunt said his research showed that Missouri higher education turned out only five high school physics teachers and only 145 math teachers during the 2006-07 school year.

"Clearly we're not keeping up with the demand that's going to exist for teachers in these very important fields of math and science," he said. "We all have to redouble our efforts."

Sebelius added that adult workers will also need help with training to pursue new jobs or keep up with advances in their present careers. She said high-tech skills go beyond engineering jobs to those in health care, bioenergy and manufacturing.

"In the Wichita area they tell me we're going to need 4,000 new aircraft workers in the next four years or those jobs will be gone," she said.

It was the governors' third annual meeting on economic development efforts in the Kansas City region, which has struggled in the past with dueling objectives caused by the bisecting state line.

Blunt and Sebelius pledged to continue working together to attract new business to the area, pointing out that their respective economic development agencies already meet regularly, which they said had never happened before.

They also said they would continue efforts to improve accessibility to health care in the region; help the University of Kansas Medical Center gain designation as a national cancer center; and encourage environmentally friendly development and greater use of alternative fuels or renewable energy sources, such as wind or solar power.

The meeting was the last for Blunt, who has said he will not seek a second term.

That led Sebelius to note Blunt's importance in encouraging bioscience research in the region by his support for embryonic stem cell research, which is opposed by some of his fellow Republicans and led to a Missouri constitutional amendment declaring the research legal.

She encouraged Missouri voters to replace Blunt with someone who is just as supportive of "this lifesaving cures initiative."

Bill Neaves, chief executive officer of the Stowers Institute for Medical Research, said Blunt's support and the 2006 amendment helped persuade the private research facility to remain in the state.

"Under this protection, stem cell research has begun in Kansas City," Neaves said.

Sebelius appeared at the summit dressed in a black suit and gold-colored scarf, because she and Blunt made a bet before the Missouri-Kansas football game in the fall that the governor of the state with the losing team -- in this case, Kansas -- would have to wear the other team's colors during the meeting.

But Sebelius got some revenge because the back of her suit jacket featured the insignia of the Orange Bowl, a Bowl Championship Series game Kansas won 24-21, while Missouri was shut out of the BCS.

"I think she's followed the letter of our wager but maybe not the spirit," Blunt said, smiling.

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