The state Legislature needs to take bold action to ensure STEM is adequately funded in Washington state, writes guest author Patrick D'Amelio.

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Washington is a leader in the concentration of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) jobs. However, our education system is facing challenges to keep up with the demand to produce a diverse and world class workforce. According to the Boston Consulting Group’s (BCG) report Opportunity for All: Investing in Washington State’s STEM Education Pipeline, only 40 percent of high school students in Washington graduate with competency in STEM topics that are critical for the state’s economy.

Washington lawmakers must strengthen the STEM pipeline from cradle to career. According to a recent poll commissioned by Washington STEM, they have overwhelming public support to do just that. A bipartisan group of legislators have proposed four pieces of legislation to help give students a high-quality STEM education.

In our poll, more than 70 percent of Washington voters said they support improving early learning programs to help improve STEM. Rep. Ruth Kagi is the prime sponsor of House Bill 1491, and Sen. Steve Litzow is championing its companion bill, Senate Bill 5452, to create The Early Start Act to improve the quality of Washington’s childcare and preschools. Research shows early math skills are the best predictor of future academic success. Introducing our youngest students to STEM will set them up for a lifetime of opportunity, success, and interest in STEM.

Teachers are the most important factor in student achievement. House Bill 1345, as passed by the House 91-7, sponsored by Reps. Kristine Lytton, Chad Magendanz and Steve Bergquist, would adopt a statewide definition of teacher professional development; this will help drive the millions spent annually on teacher professional development to better outcomes for teachers and students. Supporting teachers helps students succeed.

Along with great teachers, schools need state-of-the-art classroom environments to help students actively engage in STEM. More than 80 percent of Washington voters support legislation like the K-12 STEM Capital Grants Program, included in the House and Senate budgets, to fund necessary improvements in aging schools.

House Bill 1813, championed by the bipartisan team of Magendanz and Rep. Drew Hansen, as passed by the House 91-7, would prepare students for one of the most in demand careers, computer science. According to data from the U.S. Census Bureau, in Washington the most common jobs are software developers.

These jobs aren’t only in tech — two thirds of the nation’s computing jobs are in other industries, at places like Starbucks or WSDOT. House Bill 1813 establishes education standards for computer science, matches private funding to train teachers, and prioritizes investments to reach underrepresented students first. Nine out of 10 voters overwhelmingly support actions like these and expanding the number of schools offering computer science.

STEM investments now will yield a high return. We urge budget writers to prioritize them as they negotiate a final state budget. According to the BCG report, a $650 million annual investment in STEM education yields $4.5 billion in additional tax revenues and social-spending savings per year, a sevenfold return on investment.

The state Supreme Court mandated the state spend more to satisfy its constitutional requirement regarding basic education. A robust STEM education must be part of this. As lawmakers grapple with historic decisions about the state’s education system, they should take bold actions that ensure the growth of Washington’s economy and that students have the skills to get a good job and lead a life of opportunity.

Patrick D’Amelio is CEO of Washington STEM, a nonprofit working to improve and expand education in science, technology, engineering and math.