Bills introduced seeking to implement computer science in Mississippi schools

Two bills introduced at the capitol, one in the House and one in the Senate, aim to place a computer science curriculum in all of Mississippi’s classrooms. 

The bills, similar in structure and language, each carry the title of ‘the Mississippi Computer Science and Cyber Education Act.’ With backing from C Spire, SB 2678, authored by Senator Scott DeLano, and HB 633, authored by Rep. Kevin Felsher, the legislation would implement a mandatory computer science curriculum in each of Mississippi’s 884 K-12 public and charter schools for all of the state’s 442,627 students. 

Defining computer science as the “study of computers, algorithmic processes, coding, and logical thinking, including computer principles, their hardware and software designs, their implementation and their impact on society,” the curriculum would be implemented through a phase-in approach, reaching all schools by the beginning of the 2024-25 school year. 

Following the state’s investment into devices and broadband expansion in the midst of the pandemic, DeLano noted that this effort underscores the importance of computer science education moving forward for Mississippi students. 

“We need to capitalize on the progress we’ve made in educating and informing our colleagues and the public on the importance of getting more rigorous computer science standards in all of our schools so that students have the knowledge, skills and abilities to compete for the best jobs in the new 21st-century economy,” DeLano said.

According to C Spire, the state currently has over 1,475 unfilled jobs due to the “serious shortage of trained, qualified IT and computing workers” and the average starting salary is almost double the statewide average.

While each student may not go on to a career in the field, Chris Champion, Vice President of Government Relations for C Spire, explained that this is a way to get students comfortable with technology. 

“We’re not expecting every kid to be a coder or a programmer, but we want that exposure there, so whether they go on to be a diesel mechanic, a doctor, a lawyer or a realtor, they’re going to need to know some type of computer science because technology is going to be a part of their everyday life,” Champion said. 

As for the cost, Champion recently stated that they hope to see the legislature allocate around $2 million per year for the program’s operation with teacher training being the largest expense. C Spire recently committed $1 million for that purpose along with the program’s implementation. 

Felsher noted that while some districts may already be exceeding the requirements for computer science instruction, the state public school system needs uniform standards that apply to all students and schools.

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

Currently, between 48-55% of high schools teach computer science in some form, according to C Spire. CTO Carla Lewis explained this program would help to improve opportunities for both minority and female students in the industry. 

“Mississippi public K-12 schools are some of the most diverse in the nation with over 52 percent of the population students of color – African American and Hispanic – and nearly 49 percent female, two areas that have historically been under-represented in the computer science industry, Lewis stated.

Similar bills were introduced during the 2020 session but were ultimately negated by the onset of the pandemic. 

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