Tom Muchlinski

A recent study from the University of Missouri reveals the significance of developing math skills at an early age. Children's familiarity with numbers as they enter first grade directly correlates to how well they are able to understand and use mathematics later in life.

Dr. Kathy Mann Koepke of the National Institutes of Health, which is funding research into math cognition, goes further, saying that math is integral to our functioning overall as adults. "It's not just, 'Can you do well in school?' It's how well can you do in life," Koepke states.

However, nationally, one in five American adults today lack the math skills expected of a middle school student. Unfortunately, while that number might surprise us, it's just the tip of the iceberg.

From top to bottom, the nation's education system is falling behind other countries in producing students who are proficient in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) and computer science. Jobs in these fields are expected to grow by 17 percent from 2009 to 2018 compared to 9.8 percent growth for non-STEM occupations. At the current pace, the U.S. will not produce even half the number of graduates needed to fill those positions.

Minnesota will have more than 170,000 STEM-related jobs to fill by 2018, 94 percent of them requiring post-secondary education and training. That is why it should worry us all that just 48 percent of the state's eighth-graders tested at or above the proficient level in math, and only 42 percent met the proficient standard in science in 2011.

There is new urgency as more leaders recognize the link between our educational goals and our economic future.

That's the goal of recent bipartisan legislation, The Immigration Innovation Act of 2013, (aka I-Squared) introduced by Sen. Amy Klobuchar, along with several other senators, including Republicans Orrin Hatch and Marco Rubio.

Currently folded into the comprehensive Immigration Reform bill that the Senate is set to consider this month, the I-Squared measure addresses the nation's STEM jobs crisis (thousands of unfilled jobs because too few STEM qualified workers are available) through the development of a National STEM Education fund for states to close the STEM skills gap.

The STEM Education funding comes from the fees of raising caps on H-1B visas that were established in 1990, long before today's high-tech driven economy. These visas help STEM-qualified workers into the U.S. when the skills don't exist in our domestic workforce. The I-Squared approach makes an important commitment to the future by addressing the STEM skills gap and over the long term and lessening the need for employers to seek out nondomestic STEM talent.

As Sen. Klobuchar works across the aisle in Congress to help improve math education in Minnesota and throughout the nation, I am proud not just as a current constituent, but also as her former math teacher during her senior year in high school. She is addressing one of the nation's most important jobs issues.

Five of the top ten jobs in Minnesota with the highest projected growth rates over the next decade are in STEM fields. While the Comprehensive Immigration Reform bill working its way through the Senate does contain the I-Squared proposal, funding for the National STEM Education Fund has been significantly reduced.

If we take the rights steps and ensure a robust fully funded STEM Education Fund, our students will be prepared to fill those future jobs. I'd call upon every member of Minnesota's Congressional delegation to lead the way forward on this issue.