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A KEY to setting up children for success in Washington’s fast-growing technology sector is to get them hooked on science, technology, engineering and mathematics — called STEM — while they are young.

Without more college graduates in those areas, employers have to look out of state for talent. Equally concerning is the disparity of numbers between male and female workers in the high-tech industry.

For instance, only 28 percent of Microsoft’s U.S. workforce is made up of women. Google’s global workforce is 70 percent male. In 2012, women earned 18 percent of bachelor’s degrees and 28 percent of master’s degrees in computer science from American colleges.

Something must shift. Research shows girls lose interest in math and science from the time they are in middle school.

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Advocacy groups such as Washington STEM and programs such as Girls Who Code are trying to build confidence in students and fight gender stereotypes, but they need the public school system’s help.

In 2013, Gov. Jay Inslee signed into law a bill to count advanced-placement computer science as a math or science credit, rather than as an elective. The change encourages more such classes to be offered statewide. Today, fewer than 50 schools statewide offer the course, which limits access for many students with potential.

As Washington legislators address a state Supreme Court order to invest billions more into basic education, they must also prepare the next generation to take on high-skilled jobs offered by the region’s tech giants and startups. This means making smarter investments in STEM courses throughout the K-12 years and training teachers to be more effective at engaging students in those subjects.

The state cannot afford to leave historically underrepresented groups — including girls — out of the pipeline to lucrative futures in aerospace, software engineering and biotechnology.

“Who’s going to be the next Bill Gates or Jeff Bezos? It could very well be a girl. And she could be in a Washington classroom right now,” says Caroline King, chief policy officer for Washington STEM.

That student is more likely to break through in an environment where she sees the relevance of STEM learning and seizes the opportunity to turn that passion into the big ideas of tomorrow.

Editorial board members are editorial page editor Kate Riley, Frank A. Blethen, Ryan Blethen, Sharon Pian Chan, Lance Dickie, Jonathan Martin, Erik Smith, Thanh Tan, William K. Blethen (emeritus) and Robert C. Blethen (emeritus).

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