Can Minnesota afford to start a math and science academy especially for kids gifted in those areas?

Can it afford not to?

Rep. Melissa Hortman, DFL-Brooklyn Park, is convinced that Minnesota needs a special school for science, technology, engineering and math if it is to keep up with the rest of the world. She has introduced legislation this year that would authorize such a facility.

Hortman knows the chances for state funding this year are virtually nonexistent, and she said she wouldn't even try next year for bonding money from the Legislature. Instead, she wants to get the policy discussions going about the need for such a school.

"We have to train our kids to compete with anybody in math and science. ... In terms of graduates coming out of higher education, [other countries] are doing a better job cranking out scientists in other countries," said Hortman, who introduced a similar bill in 2006 that never got off the ground.

She also wants to start drumming up enough support from private businesses for the school -- which does not yet have a cost estimate -- to reduce the dependence on state funding. "What I envision is 50 percent private funding, and 50 percent public funding," she said.

Other proposals to establish a Minnesota math and science academy were made in 1987 and 1990.

The proposed academy in Hortman's bill would house up to 300 high school juniors and seniors, who would be selected on a competitive basis. And like its model, the Perpich Center for Arts Education in Golden Valley, a Minnesota math and science academy would have a mix of day students from the Twin Cities area and boarding students from other parts of the state.

She would like the school to be near the University of Minnesota so the academy's students would have access to university labs and other facilities.

Plus, math and science whizzes would benefit from being around other kids with similar interests and talents, Hortman said.

"Put them together and exciting things happen," she said.

Norman Draper • 612-673-4547