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President Obama. (White House File Photo)
President Obama. (White House File Photo)

A new program called “Computer Science For All,” announced today by President Obama, proposes more than $4 billion in funding for schools to boost computer science education across the United States.

The program, part of a broader push to recognize computer science as a basic skill for the 21st Century, will be included in the President’s upcoming budget for his final year in office. The $4 billion in funding would be available through the Department of Education, distributed to states that submit comprehensive plans to build their computer science programs in primary through 12th grade classrooms.

Uses for the funding will include training teachers and expanding access to instructional materials, allowing districts to offer more hands-on computer science courses in public schools across the country.

Another $100 million in competitive grants would be made available directly to leading school districts to develop flagship programs that could serve as models for schools across the country.

“In the new economy, computer science isn’t an optional skill – it’s a basic skill, right along with the three ‘Rs.’ ” says Obama, announcing the initiative in his weekly radio address. “Nine out of ten parents want it taught at their child’s schools. Yet right now, only about a quarter of our K-12 schools offer computer science. Twenty-two states don’t even allow it to count toward a diploma.”

He said the plan will give “every student in America an early start at learning the skills they need to get ahead in the new economy.”

As part of the White House announcement, Microsoft said it’s launching a new policy push with the goal of getting all 50 states to count computer science courses toward high school graduation, up from 28 now. The company previously announced a $75 million initiative to expand its TEALS (Technology Education and Literacy in Schools) program to expand to 700 schools in 33 states, reaching almost 30,000 students.

Brad Smith, Microsoft president and chief legal officer.
Brad Smith, Microsoft president and chief legal officer.

Brad Smith, Microsoft’s president and chief legal officer, was among the participants in a White House conference call with reporters in advance of the announcement, voicing the company’s support.

“Computing and computer science have become foundational for the future virtually across the American economy,” Smith said. “This isn’t just a tech issue, this isn’t just an education issue. Computer science education is now an economic and social imperative for the next generation of American students.”

Computer science initiatives from Apple, Google, Facebook, Cartoon Network, Qualcomm and Salesforce were also highlighted in the White House announcement.

Knowledge of computer science is increasingly becoming a basic skill necessary to enter the workforce—there were over 600,000 tech jobs open across the US last year, and many jobs in other fields increasingly demand at least basic knowledge.

As the Obama administration points out in its announcement, computer science training is also a huge factor in economic opportunity and social mobility. According to the administration, less than 15 percent of high schools offer Advanced Placement courses in computer science. In 2015, only 22% of those who took the AP computer science test were girls, and only 13 percent were African-American or Latino. By increasing funding for computer science across the board, the president is hoping to increase access to CS education for these and other underrepresented demographics.

The National Science Foundation has also pledged $120 million towards the initiative over the next five years, and Corporation for National and Community Service is committing $17 million to support teacher training. The Obama administration also emphasized partnerships with industry professionals and philanthropists, particularly with respect to training teachers in computer science skills.

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