Arkansas lawmakers will soon vote on whether to require all high school students to take a computer science course.
Gov. Asa Hutchinson announced Wednesday the state legislature will take up a bill creating the requirement sponsored by Sen. Jane English, R-North Little Rock, in the January general session.
Speaking at a news conference at Little Rock’s Museum of Discovery, Hutchinson said computer science enrollment has reached a record high despite drops in enrollment due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“We started in 2015 with 1,100 students in computer science. We went to close to 4,550 and on up… to 10,450 students. And that, I believe, is a 9.5% growth rate for our students that we’re very pleased with during this time of challenge in the State of Arkansas,” Hutchinson said.
The number of girls taking computer science courses has also increased over the past year, he said, and the number of Black students taking computer science courses has surpassed the percentage of all Black students enrolled in high schools in the state.
Hutchinson said the bill will also require every high school in Arkansas to employ at least one certified computer science teacher, which would increase the number of teachers from roughly 500 currently to 750. He said the state will offer various incentives for educators to become certified, including extending existing compensation for educators who pass a certification exam and then teach in-state.
Marion High School teacher and Arkansas Computer Science Teacher of the Year Sean Gray voiced his enthusiasm for the measure.
“Exposing all of our kids to computer science and giving them these opportunities, I don't think there's a better time for it. During the pandemic, people are working from home. These jobs can all be done at home, and that's something that I'm extremely excited about,” Gray said.
Wednesday’s announcements follow recommendations from the governor’s Computer Science and Cybersecurity Task Force, which delivered its final report last month. Hutchinson said, should the bill pass, the requirement for high schoolers to take computer science classes would take roughly a year to go into effect.