Take Action: Restore Funding For Competitive Robotics

VEX robotics competition
A VEX Robotics competition in northern Michigan


We know that STEM skills are an important part of filling jobs of the 21st century. Competitive robotics has become a fun and popular way for students to get hooked with a passion for STEM skills and activities.

In past years, the state has provided up to $3 million in grants for schools to start and grow extracurricular robotics teams.

That grant funding for robotics teams has been pulled from the Michigan House version of the School Aid Budget. We need your help to get it restored in conference committee.

OUR ASK: Support the Senate version of Section 99h of the School Aid budget.

Last year, changes to Section 99h of the 2018-2019 School Aid Fund budget allowed for both FIRST and VEX competitive robotics programs to be eligible for state robotics grants. In addition, legislators boosted the eligible statewide grant pool to $4 million for both VEX and FIRST Robotics programs.

These small but significant changes led to explosive growth in both the number of new teams and competitions in over 450 school districts around the state.  That means: more districts, more students, more excitement, and more STEM!

What’s even more exciting is that nearly half of that growth came from students and school districts in northern Michigan.

In your letter or contact with legislators, you may wish to include some of the rough growth numbers from last year’s budget:

  • Approximately 120 new VEX teams across Michigan (45% increase),
  • 700 new students participating across the state,
  • 50% increase in number of VEX teams in northern Michigan, especially in rural school districts,
  • Nearly 15% growth in the number of VEX competitions, which means more opportunities for students to compete and hone their new skills,
  • Significant grant increase for FIRST Robotics, which continues to grow statewide, including hosting the FIRST Robotics National Championship in Detroit in 2019.
firstrobotics_national championship detroit
A scene from the FIRST Robotics National Championship in Detroit

Please ask the legislators below to support the Michigan Senate version of section 99h of the FY 2019-2020 School Aid Budget. The Senate retains the language under 99h that allows multiple robotics programs in ALL schools and increases the budget for grants statewide by $200,000.  
Contact these legislators today and ask for their support of the Senate version of Section 99h in the School Aid Budget:

Speaker of the House Lee Chatfield LeeChatfield@house.mi.gov


(517) 373-2629
Representative Triston Cole, Majority Floor Leader TristonCole@house.mi.gov


(517) 373-0829


Representative Shane Hernandez, Chair, Appropriations Committee (House)




(517) 373-0835


Representative Aaron Miller, Chair, K-12 Appropriations Subcommittee (House) AaronMiller@house.mi.gov


(517) 373-0832
State Senator Wayne Schmidt, Chair, K-12 Appropriation Subcommittee (Senate) SenWSchmidt@senate.michigan.gov


(517) 373-2413


State Senator Jim Stamas, Chair, Appropriations Committee (Senate) SenJStamas@senate.michigan.gov


(517) 373-7946


Sample Text
Dear Representative/Senator XX,

I am writing today to respectfully ask your support for including the Senate version of Section 99h of the School Aid Budget for FY 2019-2020. The Senate version maintains funding for grants to all school districts for competitive robotics programs with FIRST and VEX robotics platforms.

We know that STEM skills are an important part of filling jobs of the 21st century. Competitive robotics has become a fun and popular way for students to get hooked and grow passionate about STEM skills and activities. Thanks to the work of the legislature and administration in making STEM learning a priority, competitive robotics teams are growing in Michigan above the world average. This has come from dedicated teachers, parents and students – and a small, yet mighty investment from the State of Michigan.

We urge you to ask your colleagues on the School Aid Budget conference committee to support the Senate version of Section 99h, which has a proven track record of fueling competitive robotics and STEM growth in our state.


Going Pro Press Conference Highlights Alliance Support

At a Press Conference in Traverse City on June 17th, a host of state and local dignitaries from different places on the industry and political spectrum to show support of a widely used and successful talent development program called Going Pro.

Michigan Department of Talent and Economic Director acting-Director Stephanie Beckhorn, State Senator Curt VanderWall (35th – Ludington), State Representative Triston Cole (105th – Mancelona), Traverse City Mayor Jim Carruthers, and representatives from community colleges, regional Michigan Works! agencies, ISD programs, employers, employees, and students who have successfully used the program to address talent and skills gaps in the region.

Kent_Going Pro presser June 2019
From left: Celebrating the Going PRO campaign kickoff in Traverse City on Monday to promote Professional Trades careers in Northwest Michigan were Traverse Bay Area Intermediate School District (TBAISD) Career-Tech Center Principal Patrick Lamb, Traverse City Mayor Jim Carruthers, Northern Michigan Chamber Alliance Director of Government Relations Kent Wood, Talent and Economic Development (Ted) Department of Michigan Acting Director Stephanie Beckhorn, Northwestern Michigan College Vice President for Lifelong and Professional Learning Marguerite Cotto, state Sen. Curt VanderWall, R-Ludington, state Rep. Triston Cole, R-Mancelona, and Chief Operating Officer of Northwest Michigan Works! Terry Vandercook.

Alliance Director of Government Relations was also invited to speak and talked about the strong business support for the program in the region and around the state. He also took the time to highlight the support and impact the Northern Michigan Chamber Alliance has had on advocating for Going Pro in front of the region’s legislators.

Below is an excerpt of Wood’s comments:

Thank you, Senator VanderWall and Representative Cole.

And thank you, Mayor Carruthers.

My name is Kent Wood, and I serve as the Traverse City Area Chamber’s Director of Government Relations.

The ability of Michigan employers to find highly skilled and capable employees is more difficult today than ever before.

In fact, the skills gap is often cited as a top concern in the business community.

That’s why earlier this month eight regional chambers of commerce in Traverse City, Lansing, Detroit, Flint, Saginaw County, Ann Arbor/Ypsilanti, Southwest Michigan and Grand Rapids announced their support for bringing more Professional Trades talent into the state’s workforce.

In addition, the Northern Michigan Chamber Alliance also supports Going PRO.

The Alliance is a partnership of more than nine Chambers and economic development organizations from northern lower and the UP that we are part of and help lead.

Supporting Going Pro is one of the priorities of the Alliance that includes the Chambers in:

  • Alpena
  • Benzie
  • Cadillac
  • Charlevoix
  • Gaylord
  • Petoskey
  • Traverse City
  • Manistee, and
  • Marquette

We’re all trying to do different things in our respective regions.

We all are aware Democrats and Republicans don’t always agree.

Business and labor don’t always see eye to eye either.

But we are all in support of Going PRO and advocating for state policies that encourage more talent to enter the workforce.

A Rural “Map” To Fix The Damn Roads

The Northern Michigan Chamber Alliance released a 5-part plan with recommendations on generating and distributing new state revenues for road and bridge construction in Michigan.

The Alliance’s “2019 Road Funding Principles” document calls on state lawmakers to dedicate new fuel taxes or fees to road and bridge construction under regional funding models that are equitable for Northern Michigan. The priorities were drafted in the wake of renewed calls in Lansing for more dedicated revenue – including Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s proposal to raise the state’s gasoline tax 45 cents per gallon to raise an additional $1.5 billion for roads.

“The Northern Michigan Chamber Alliance has strongly and consistently advocated for strengthening Michigan’s infrastructure including its road and bridges,” Chamber Alliance Government Relations Director Kent Wood said. “As state lawmakers begin to discuss new and expanded revenue streams for road construction, it is critical that these measures are soundly administered and distributed to ensure that Northern Michigan receives sufficient funding for its transportation network to accommodate our area’s large visitor influx, and help deliver goods and services outside our region.”

The Alliance’s recommendations cover five specific areas in the road funding debate and the various proposals being discussed in the Michigan Legislature. They include:

  1. Dedicating New Revenue
  • The Alliance states that any new revenue from an increase in fuel taxes or related fees be specifically dedicated to roads and bridges.
  • To ensure maximum impact of new revenue into construction, pre-construction costs should be properly aligned with the private sector.
  1. Ensure Regional Funding Models
  • If new funding is not distributed through the state’s traditional road funding formula of Public Act 51, the distribution model should account for rural highways, arterials and connectors that feed our regional economy including tourism, agriculture and delivery of other goods and services.
  • New revenue formulas should also consider our environmental factors including our longer, colder winters, added snow plowing and salt application, our extended frost/freeze cycles and deeper frost lines.
  • Any review committees or advisory boards on transportation funding should include sufficient representation from Northern Michigan.
  1. Develop a Plan for Local Roads

Road conditions chart_RED circle

  • As nearly 50 percent of Michigan’s local roads are rated in poor condition, additional fuel taxes and road revenues should be available for major local roads and corridors. This will ensure better equity for businesses and residents of rural communities who are assessed with a statewide fuel tax increase and that rural taxpayers see improvements in their local road conditions.
  1. Address the Road Construction Workforce Shortage
  • As Northern Michigan’s major road construction companies have been at capacity for the previous two construction season, it’s imperative to address the work force shortage to ensure that new road revenues will actually lead to additional road construction.
  1. Maintain Michigan’s Top 10 Business Tax Structure
  • New road funding should not impact Michigan’s position as a recent Top 10 state for business taxes. It’s imperative that we maintain a predictable business tax structure for small and medium-sized businesses that are the foundation of Northern Michigan’s economy.

About the Alliance

The Northern Michigan Chamber Alliance spans 14 counties and represents nearly 8,000 members of Northern Michigan’s business community. It’s composed of the Chambers of Commerce in Traverse City, Alpena, Benzie County, Cadillac, Charlevoix, Gaylord, Manistee and Petoskey and the Lake Superior Community Partnership in Marquette County. Associate members include the chambers in Elk Rapids, Harbor Springs, Boyne Area, Cheboygan, Sault Area and East Jordan.

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