Between layoffs and budget cuts, public schools are suffering. Each year, public school teachers spend more than $400 of their own money to pay for school supplies, instructional materials and other items required for student learning. This adds up to $1.8 billion in out-of-pocket expenses for teachers across the United States. 
The challenges facing our students are not only economic, but educational as well. Many experts believe the United States is falling behind in equipping students with the skills they need to be successful in today’s global economy. Development of a highly skilled STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) workforce that is prepared to meet business and societal needs, and compete in a global marketplace, must be a priority.
A growing percentage of jobs in the modern economy, including many positions at Idaho’s largest employers — Micron Technology, Inc., St. Luke’s Health System, Hewlett Packard and others — are technical and require proficiency in STEM subjects. In 2011, 20 percent of all U.S. jobs (26 million positions) required knowledge in one STEM field. That number is estimated to grow 17 percent by 2018, compared with only 9.8 percent growth for all other fields combined. Despite the growing demand for technical jobs, science and math achievement scores in the U.S. are below those of other developed countries.
We, community leaders, educational organizations, governments and non-governmental organizations, must collaborate in the development of innovative funding solutions to provide our students with hands-on learning opportunities in STEM-based education and equip them with the critical skills they will need to succeed in the jobs of the future. Additionally, parental and community involvement is imperative in helping to improve STEM education in our community and develop a highly skilled workforce.
Community members can support local schools and students by volunteering and donating through organizations like DonorsChoose.org, which allows anyone to contribute to a classroom project posted by teachers. The process enables people in the community to direct a donation to a specific teacher, classroom or project and to see how those contributions are used.
Corporations can also play an important role in making it easy for communities to come together and help one another while supporting their own social responsibility platform. For example, the Fuel Your School program — a collaboration between DonorsChoose.org and Chevron — helped generate $250,000 last year to deliver needed school supplies and materials to local public schools. This successful program has returned to Idaho for its second year. During the month of October, for every 8 gallons purchased at a participating Chevron or Texaco station, $1 will be donated, up to $250,000, to help fund materials and supplies for local public classrooms in Ada and Canyon counties. Visit www.fuelyourschool.com for more information.
Whether you’re actively involved in education or have a vested interest in the improvement of education in our country and state, we can all help to drive this important issue forward.
Teachers: Please post a project on DonorsChoose.org
Community leaders and members: Please help spread the word, donate to charities and online funding organizations like DonorsChoose.org and volunteer at your local school.
Corporations: Please continue to invest in a thriving future workforce and find ways to contribute to local students and educators.
A little goes a long way, and we all have the opportunity to work together to help ensure our students receive a world-class education and graduate prepared to make a difference.
Sen. Cherie Buckner-Webb is an Idaho state senator representing the 19th Legislative District. She sits on the Senate Education Committee.
Source: 2014 National School Supply and Equipment Association Retail Market Awareness Study