Bills would mandate uniform computer science education across the state

Bills would mandate uniform computer science education across the state

JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - Two bills introduced this week in the Mississippi State Legislature promise to give the state’s more than 442,000 public school students a leg up in competing for jobs in the 21st century.

The bills are S.B. 2678 and H.B. 633, both known as the “Computer Science and Cyber Education Equality Acts,” would mandate the state Department of Education to implement mandatory K-12 computer science curriculums in all K-12 schools across the state.

The bills would bring classroom instruction of computer science to all public school students across the state, according to C Spire officials. C Spire helped lawmakers craft the legislation.

“Getting computer science in all Mississippi classrooms represents a tremendous opportunity to give our young people exposure to the fundamentals necessary for their future success in the workforce,” said C Spire Chief Technology Officer Carla Lewis said.

S.B. 2678 was authored by District 50 Sen. Scott DeLano, Republican, of Harrison County. H.B. 633 was introduced by District 117 Republican Rep. Kevin Felsher. Also signing onto the House bill were Reps. Richard Bennett, Samuel Creekmore IV, Clay Deweese, Kent McCarty, and Jansen Owen.

“Ultimately, we want every student to have the same opportunities to pursue computer science regardless of where they live or what school they attend,” Felsher said.

The bills are being pushed, in part, by the differences in the amount of computer science education offered by school districts across the state.

“The goal is to get more emphasis on this critical core suspect in the classroom,” said C Spire CEO Hu Meena, who added that computer science is taught in less than half of the state’s public high schools.

The other reason is to make students more competitive in the modern workforce. Currently, the need for workers with a background in computer science is in high demand, but in short supply.

According to C Spire figures, employers currently have nearly 1,500 unfilled positions “due to the serious shortage of trained, qualified IT and computer workers.”

Across the country, technology jobs are also in high demand. In September, for instance, CNBC reported a major shortage in cybersecurity jobs as the need for cyber professionals had grown during the pandemic. A year before that, in November 2019, CNBC reported that 918,000 tech jobs were available in the U.S.

Tech jobs are also some of the highest-paid.

The average starting salary for a job in the field is almost double the statewide average.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median salary for a web developer is $73,760 and $83,510 for network and computer systems administrators.

An associate’s degree is required to be a web developer, while computer systems administrators typically need a bachelor’s degree, the bureau states.

Dave Miller, senior manager of media relations for C Spire, said the telecommunications provider is working with the state on programs that would allow students to “take a very specific group of courses” to get a certification.

That certification, in turn, is very attractive to national employers like Apple, Google, Amazon and others, he said.

Measures introduced by DeLano and Felsher would mandate the Mississippi Department of Education to implement a mandatory curriculum based on 2018 college and career-readiness standards.

The curriculum would cover topics including computational thinking, cyber programming, cybersecurity, data science, robotics, and artificial intelligence and machine learning.

Beginning in the 2022-23 academic year, districts shall provide middle schools in instruction in foundational computer science. Each district also shall require that at least 50 percent of elementary schools in their systems provide a minimum of one hour a week of computer science instruction.

Charter schools that year would be required to offer middle and high school students a course in computer science, and elementary students instruction in computer science.

The following year, 2023-24, at least 50 percent of high schools in each district shall offer a course in computer science, and that all elementary schools offer a minimum of one hour a week in exploratory computer science instruction.

The following year, districts must show that all schools in their systems offer instruction in computer science.

Subject to appropriations made by the legislature, the bill also mandates that teachers, counselors and administrators receive annual training to phase in the program, with the preference going to districts that have the fewest teachers trained in that area.

In January, the C Spire Foundation announced it had committed $1 million to help cover those training costs.

The measures have been referred to their respective chamber’s Education Committee. Hearings on the measures are expected to begin soon, according to C Spire officials.

The House passed a similar bill in 2020, but the legislative session was cut short due to COVID-19.

However, last July, state lawmakers set aside $200 million to help 151 districts purchase computer devices so children could participate in distance learning at home.

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