Governor Terry Branstad signed an executive order late Tuesday to create the education advisory council that will focus on improving the teaching and learning of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) in the state. University of Northern Iowa president, Ben Allen, will co-chair the council along with the lieutenant governor. Allen says the council will continue work already underway.

Allen says the Iowa Mathematics and Science Education Partnership has already develop strategies to recruit “highly qualified” math and science teachers, and to help improve the skills those already in the classroom. He says the programs have already inspired many middle and high school students to see themselves as future STEM teachers. Allen says the new council will help share information in the STEM areas.

He says they will find pockets of excellence and make sure people all across the state know about them to spread the best practices faster across the state. The announcement of the new council came on the second and final day of the governor’s education summit. Branstad says it will take a couple of months to look over all the ideas discussed during the summit.

Branstad says that gives them the rest of the fall to hold town hall meetings and follow ups to take all that they have learned to come up with something that takes the best of what they have learned and tailor it to “meet the needs of Iowa and Iowa kids.” One theme that came up constantly throughout the two-day summit was the need for early childhood education.

Branstad has pushed for cutting back on the free pre-school provided by the state — and says he heard the comments on the issue — but wasn’t ready to say he’d change his view. Branstad says his recommendation was to “means test” the pre-school to be sure the limited resources are focused on families that have significant financial need. He says there is a need to focus on kids living in poverty.

The legislature did cut the pre-school funding by seven million dollars compared to last year in a budget compromise. When pressed again, Branstad would not say if he had changed his view on the funding.

Branstad says it’s “a work in progress” and he says everyone wants to work together to make sure the kids get the best experience through the whole spectrum of education. Branstad says we have to recognize the issue doesn’t start at pre-school, it starts even before that. Branstad says overall he was pleased with the information they discussed at the education summit.