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Foundational blueprint sought to expand computer science education in schools

In Minnesota, more than 14,000 computing jobs that annually pay about $92,000 on average go unfilled every month for the want of suitable applicants, publicly available data suggests.

In 2018, there were only 1,296 computer science graduates in the state. And Minnesota currently ranks last among the 50 states for having the lowest percentage (24%) of high schools offering a foundational computer science course.

The state needs digitally skilled computational thinkers, said Jeff Tollefson, president and CEO of the Minnesota Technology Association, and Minnesota’s tech-enabled companies need talent that can reflect the diversity of the community.

“We can catch up,” Rep. Jim Davnie (DFL-Mpls) said while introducing HF3243 to the House Education Policy Committee Wednesday. The bill would establish a foundational blueprint for expanding computer science education for elementary and secondary schools in Minnesota with the help of a task force to advise the Department of Education.

Expanding computer science education at all levels will help Minnesota have a workforce ready for a competitive global economy and promote equitable economic growth among the state’s residents, Davnie said.

The bill, which doesn’t have a Senate companion, was approved 17-1 and referred to the House Education Finance Committee.

The expansion of computer science education in elementary school would open doors for students’ academic progress in high school, Davnie said. The task force, funded with a $20,000 appropriation, would develop a comprehensive computer science education program and identify strategies and resources to achieve those goals within an established timeline. It also would include plans to develop K-12 computer science academic standards.

The foundational blueprint would contain a plan for a computer science teacher licensure endorsement, teacher preparation programs, and an annual evaluation of progress towards identified goals.

Computer science programs help students develop critical thinking and problem-solving skills, experts say. Data show students who attend rural schools, urban schools, or schools with higher percentages of economically disadvantaged students are less likely to have access to computer science.

Availability and access to computer science education can help promote equity and social justice, competencies and literacies, and citizenship and civic engagement, as well as a feeling of personal satisfaction, the CSforAll-MN Steering Committee wrote in support of the bill.

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