U.S. Sen. Al Franken touted the importance of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) courses during a visit to Patrick Henry High School on Tuesday, telling students that their future paychecks and the nation's prosperity hinges on more of them becoming well versed in math and science.

"We want you to find a job in the 21st century economy," Franken said. "I have employers who are begging for students with STEM talents."

Franken, along with manufacturing executives, spoke with students in civil engineering and International Baccalaureate math classes at Henry, a school that Newsweek magazine listed among the nation's top 100 public schools in 2003. Since then, the North Side school has fallen on hard times, having lost 30 percent of its enrollment and repeatedly failing to meet the demands of the federal No Child Left Behind Act, which is being retooled in Congress nearly a decade after its implementation.

Franken told students the new version of the law, formally known as the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, will be an "incredible improvement over what No Child Left Behind was." Part of that improvement will be increased funding for STEM education.

As a member of the Senate Health Education Labor and Pensions committee, Franken attached four amendments to the federal bill, but withdrew one that would have afforded more protection for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students.

Franken still plans to press for the legislation, the Student Non-Discrimination Act, when the full Senate considers the bill. He would need 60 votes to secure passage.

Prior to the tour, Franken discussed proposed changes to the Elementary and Secondary Education Act in a closed door meeting at Henry with Minneapolis schools Superintendent Bernadeia Johnson and several other district administrators. The revamped law will focus less on punishment, but demands for accountability, for schools or teachers, won't fade away, he told reporters afterward.

The link between education and industry is being emphasized during Minnesota Manufacturers Week, which began Sunday. A recent Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development survey found that 45 percent of the state's manufacturing companies haven't filled jobs because they couldn't find qualified candidates.Manufacturers expect the problem to become more severe over the next three years, the 2011 Minnesota Skills Gap Survey found.

"I want you to have all the tools at your disposal," Franken told students.