By State Senator Patty Schachtner
When I was in high school, Science Olympiad was just getting started, holding its first event in November 1974. Since then, Science Olympiad has grown nationwide with over 7,800 schools participating, including 98 here in Wisconsin. Students from Baldwin-Woodville, Menomonie, New Richmond, St. Croix Central, Boyceville, and Hudson swarm to universities across the state each year to compete. They go to win. But beyond the competition, it is a way for students to learn skills and build relationships.
It is crucial that we invest in workforce training, and we can do that by making it easier for youth to participate in STEM – Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math – programs. These programs can set our students up for successful careers in high-demand fields like engineering and manufacturing. According to a 2015 report by the Manufacturing Institute and Deloitte Consulting, 2 million out of an estimated 3.4 million manufacturing jobs will go unfilled in 2025. Researchers find that an aging workforce and a “skills gap” will contribute to unmet labor demand.
Education is an investment, and by supporting Science Olympiad, we are investing in the workforce of tomorrow. That is why I authored Assembly Bill 1064 with Representative Terese Berceau. This bill allows the Department of Public Instruction to provide grants worth up the $5,000 for each student Science Olympiad team. The grant can support existing teams and also encourage new teams to form.
Overall, state support for Science Olympiad is a small step forward to help our schools and students. Wisconsin’s K-12 schools are still recovering from historic cuts to education made in 2011, when $792 million in direct state aid was eliminated. Across the state, the cuts forced local taxpayers to make up the difference through referendums or eliminate school programs altogether. While state lawmakers increased K-12 spending this year, schools are finding the recent, overdue increases insufficient to meet next year’s needs. It is not just our schools saying this. According to the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau, the K-12 funding signed into law by Governor Walker devotes the second-lowest percentage of the state’s general fund to our public school students in 23 years.
While Assembly Bill 1064 did not pass this legislative session, I am committed to working with lawmakers and stakeholders from across Wisconsin to make it happen. We owe it to our students to make sure they can compete in tomorrow’s economy, just as our parents did for us. Investing in Science Olympiad is just one way for us to pay it forward.
State Senator Patty Schachtner represents Wisconsin’s tenth senate district. The district covers parts of Burnett, Dunn, Pierce, Polk, and St. Croix counties.