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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Eye On Boise

House backs launching computer science initiative in Idaho schools, though 2 members object

The House has voted 66-2 in favor of launching a computer science education initiative in Idaho’s public schools, with just Reps. Heather Scott, R-Blanchard, and Shannon McMillan, R-Silverton, objecting. The legislation, sponsored by House Education Chairman Reed DeMordaunt, R-Eagle, calls for the state’s STEM Action Center board, the state Board of Education, and the state Department of Education to collaborate on the process, including adopting computer science learning standards, providing for training for Idaho teachers, distributing grants to schools and teachers, setting up an online portal with instructional resources, and more.

The standards would be developed in the coming year, and would be “aligned with nationally recognized computer science education standards with input from Idaho educators and industries for implementation in the 2017-2018 school year,” according to the bill, HB 379.

“I think it can have profound effect,” DeMordaunt told the House. “It develops computer science standards, provides some resources for teachers to be trained. … Just as importantly, this makes sure that industry is directly involved in helping direct this.”

Scott had questions for DeMordaunt. “My question is on these standards. Were these developed by industries themselves, or are they coming from somewhere else?” DeMordaunt responded, “We’re looking nationally but we’re also looking within the state, as well as the industries within the state and what the demand is. So that’s how the standards are being developed.” Scott followed up. “My question is … you said local educators were involved. Could the gentleman explain what that looked like, who was involved in that process?”

“The process hasn’t started yet,” DeMordaunt responded. “That’s what this legislation envisions.”

Gov. Butch Otter, in his State of the State address to lawmakers this year, called for a new computer science initiative stretching from kindergarten “through career,” overseen by the new STEM Action Center, for which Otter is calling for $10 million in start-up funds and $2 million a year in operations. “Our industry partners throughout Idaho are eager to join us in supporting its work,” Otter told lawmakers.

DeMordaunt read from an email from the CEO of a local high-tech firm who said he had had to open up centers outside Idaho, for lack of qualified job applicants here, and would rather hire locally. “This is the bill to lay that foundation,” DeMordaunt said.

The bill now moves to the Senate side. It calls for spending $94,300 on the initiative next year, including costs for a staffer at the STEM Action Center.

Betsy Z. Russell
Betsy Z. Russell joined The Spokesman-Review in 1991. She currently is a reporter in the Boise Bureau covering Idaho state government and politics, and other news from Idaho's state capital.

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