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(Photo via Change.org).
(Photo via Change.org).

Code.org, the non-profit that promotes computer science education around the world, has secured $23 million in donations from Microsoft, Infosys, Google, Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan, and several others. Seattle-based Code.org will use the funds to continue its pledge to train 25,000 public school teachers in computer science each year, according to CEO and co-founder Hadi Partovi.

The funds accompany an open letter to Congress, signed by a long list of business, education and political leaders, including Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates, CEO Satya Nadella, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos. The letter implores Congress to make computer science education for K-12 students a priority.

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella speaks to a group of teachers at the company's Redmond, Wash. headquarters. (GeekWire Photo, Jacob Demmitt)
Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella speaks to a group of teachers at the company’s Redmond, Wash. headquarters. (GeekWire Photo, Jacob Demmitt)

“Whether it’s smartphones or social networks, self-driving cars or personalized medicine, nothing embodies the American Dream so much as the opportunity to change or even reinvent the world with technology,” the letter says. “And participating in this world requires access to computer science in our schools. We ask you to provide funding for every student in every school to have an opportunity to learn computer science.”

Twenty-seven governors, including Washington state’s Jay Inslee, and 28 leaders in education and ed-related non-profits also signed the letter. It includes a petition, which is open to the public. As of 10:45 a.m. Tuesday it had 3,236 signatures. In addition to publishing the letter on Change.org, the coalition plans to deliver it to every Congressional office.

On top of the $23 million to Code.org, Microsoft and Google are committing an additional $10 million each to expand computer science in public schools. Infosys Foundation will donate $5 million in grants to related non-profits.

The open letter was organized by Code.org and the Computer Science Education Coalition, a non-profit that works to increase K-12 education in the field by securing federal funds.

Code.org CEO Hadi Partovi.
Code.org Founder and CEO Hadi Partovi.

“The fact that we got the support of a lot of tech companies is unique, but not a complete surprise,” said Partovi. “But the fact that we got companies like John Deere or Dupont or Delta Airlines — having the CEO and chairman of the company saying, ‘this is important enough to put my name behind,’ is a real sign of why computer science is much broader than just technology.”

The letter assures Congress that increasing federal spending is not necessary to expand computer science education in public schools. According to Partovi, this was critical in order to secure signatures from governors on both sides of the aisle.

“We’re in a unique year, in that the Education Act just got rewritten for our country last December,” he said. “There’s an opening to rewrite the education budget and we believe computer science can be funded using a small fraction of a percent. Just a fraction of one percent of the federal education budget would be enough to solve this problem.

The full text of the letter is available below. The petition and names associated with the letter are available here

America should be a leader in computer science education, yet today most schools don’t even offer this foundational subject. Please join the CEOs, governors, and education leaders below and ask Congress to support computer science in every K-12 school – for our children, and for their future.

Every student in America should have this opportunity

Dear Members of Congress and fellow Americans,

As business leaders, elected officials, educators, and members of the public, we join forces to deliver a bipartisan message about opportunity and the American Dream. Technology is transforming society at an unprecedented rate. Whether it’s smartphones or social networks, self-driving cars or personalized medicine, nothing embodies the American Dream so much as the opportunity to change or even reinvent the world with technology. And participating in this world requires access to computer science in our schools. We ask you to provide funding for every student in every school to have anopportunity to learn computer science.

Support for this idea is sweeping our nation. Ninety percent of parents want their children to have access to computer science education at school, and teachers agree. They know that technology opens doors. A hundred thousand teachers have taken matters into their own hands and already begun teaching computer science. Over 100 school districts are rolling out courses, from New York to Chicago to Los Angeles, from Miami to Las Vegas. Twenty states have passed policies and are now looking to support professional training for new computer science teachers. Private donors have collectively committed tens of millions of dollars to solving this problem, including $48 million of new commitments announced today by many of the undersigned.

Despite this groundswell, three-quarters of U.S. schools do not offer meaningful computer science courses. At a time when every industry in every state is impacted by advances in computer technology, our schools should give all students the opportunity to understand how this technology works, to learn how to be creators, coders, and makers — not just consumers.  Instead, what is increasingly a basic skill is only available to the lucky few, leaving most students behind, particularly students of color and girls.

How is this acceptable? America leads the world in technology. We invented the personal computer, the Internet, e-commerce, social networking, and the smartphone. This is our chance to position the next generation to participate in the new American Dream.

Not only does computer science provide every student foundational knowledge, it also leads to the highest-paying, fastest-growing jobs in the U.S. economy. There are currently over 500,000 open computing jobs, in every sector, from manufacturing to banking, from agriculture to healthcare, but only 50,000 computer science graduates a year. Whether a student aspires to be a software engineer, or if she just wants a well-rounded education in today’s changing world, access to computer science in school is an economic imperative for our nation to remain competitive. And with the growing threat of cyber warfare, this is even a critical matter of national security. Despite this growing need, targeted federal funding to carry out these efforts in classrooms is virtually non-existent. This bipartisan issue can be addressed without growing the federal budget.

We urge you to amplify and accelerate the local efforts in classrooms, unlock opportunity in every state, and give an answer to all the parents and teachers who believe that every student, in every school, should have a chance to learn computer science.

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