Two Gulf Coast state lawmakers have introduced bills in the Mississippi Legislature advocated by C-Spire plus additional telecommunications groups that are designed to get computer science curriculum in the classrooms of all the state’s 884 K-12 public and charter schools.
SB 2678 by State Senator Scott DeLano and HB 633 by State House Representative Kevin Felsher; both from the Mississippi Gulf Coast, were introduced earlier this week and have been assigned to the Education Committee in each chamber. The bills; which would bring classroom instruction of computer science to all of the state’s 400K+ students, are expected to receive hearings soon.
The proposed laws come as the C-Spire Foundation committed $1 million earlier this month to help school districts with teacher training and implementation.
A grassroots effort to win legislative passage last year was cut short by the COVID-19 virus outbreak after a successful House of Representatives vote on a computer science bill in mid-March. The resulting global health pandemic closed most of Mississippi’s 884 public and charter K-12 schools and left many of the state’s 442,627 students with no option but virtual distance learning from home.
However, state lawmakers provided a boost to the grassroots effort last July with two new laws that set aside $200 million to help 151 school districts purchase more than 325,000 computer devices and other tools that enable students to continue learning from home after widespread school closures caused by the public health crisis. Matching state funds and grants also were set aside for rural broadband deployment.
“We need to capitalize on the progress we’ve made in educating and informing our colleagues and the public on the importance of getting more rigorous computer science standards in all of our schools so that students have the knowledge, skills and abilities to compete for the best jobs in the new 21st century economy,” DeLano said.
Felsher noted that while some districts may already be exceeding the requirements for computer science instruction, the state public school system needs uniform standards that apply to all students and schools. “Ultimately, we want every student to have the same opportunities to pursue computer science regardless of where they live or what school they attend,” he added.
Part of the push for uniform standards is being fueled by differences in the amount, if any, of computer science education offered by school districts across the state. “The goal is to get more emphasis on this critical core subject in the classroom,” said C-Spire CEO Hu Meena, noting that computer science education is taught in less than half of the state’s public high schools.
Workers with a background in computer science are in high demand and short supply in Mississippi. Employers currently have over 1,475 unfilled jobs due to the serious shortage of trained, qualified IT and computing workers. The average starting salary is almost double the statewide average. In 2019, only 327 students took the AP computer science exam according to code.org, a STEM education advocacy group.
Many districts and schools have made progress and will not need to make changes while others will need to boost teacher training and update courses to the latest curriculum.
Mississippi public K-12 schools are some of the most diverse in the nation with over 52 percent of the population students of color – African American and Hispanic – and nearly 49 percent female, two areas that have historically been under-represented in the computer science industry, according to state officials.
The grassroots computer science education effort is designed to move communities forward with a focus on workforce development, broadband access and technology innovation. To learn more about the need for computer science education in K-12 classrooms or to get involved in the effort, text FUTURE to 50457 or go to www.ourMSfuture.com.