A new bill sponsored by U.S. Sen. Patty Murray would provide $15 million a year to support women and minorities studying in the tech and science fields.

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The small numbers of women and minorities going into high-paying science and tech fields has long been a concern among educators and policymakers. A new bill co-sponsored by U.S. Sen. Patty Murray would authorize grants for outreach, mentoring and professional development programs that encourage women and minorities to enter STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) fields.

The legislation would also fund STEM education outreach programs in K-12 schools. In all, the program would provide $15 million a year between 2017 and 2021 for the programs. The programs would be chosen, and the funds would be administered, by the National Science Foundation.

Women make up only 26 percent of STEM workers, according to a 2013 American Community Survey report on disparities in STEM employment. Other studies have shown that women are more likely than men to switch out of STEM majors, and about half of women working in STEM fields quit their jobs after 10 years.

It’s also been difficult for some minorities to get a toehold in STEM fields. The Higher Education Research Institute at the University of California, Los Angeles, has found that only 22 percent of Latino students, 18.4 percent of African-American students and 18.8 percent of Native American students studying in STEM fields complete their degrees within five years. By comparison, 33 percent of white students, and 42 percent of Asian students, complete their degrees in that time period.

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