Oct 25 2017

White House, Tech Companies Pledge $500 Million to Increase STEM Opportunities

A combination of grants and donations will support computer science education for underserved students.

As K–12 schools attempt to close the science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) skills gap, federal support for such programs is key. Under President Obama, there was Computer Science for All, an initiative designed to give schools support and funding to provide opportunities for underrepresented students.

While President Trump’s 2018 budget proposed some cuts to educational services that help these students, a recent memo indicates the president may be embracing STEM in schools like his predecessor.

Late in September, President Trump signed a memorandum to provide at least $200 million in annual grant funding to expand K-12 computer science and STEM education.

“The Secretary of Education shall, consistent with law, establish the promotion of high-quality STEM education, including Computer Science in particular, as one of the priorities of the Department of Education,” reads the memo.

The memo indicates that only 18 percent of high schools teach an advanced placement computer science class and minorities, rural students and girls are the least represented in these classes, The Washington Post reports.

Based on the directive, the Education Department will devote existing grant funds to support computer science education efforts, rather than give out new funding.

While the funding will go to existing computer science programs, Code.org CEO Hadi Partovi tells EdSurge that the funding might create an incentive for schools to establish these programs and for existing programs to diversify.

“[Schools are] now encouraged to include a proposal to expand access to computer science, with a focus on diversity,” says Partovi.

Federal Efforts Inspire Businesses to Provide STEM Outreach

Experts say that the current administration putting an emphasis on STEM and computer science is a very good thing.

“Obviously, the president can signal that something is a priority and it’s super valuable and awesome,” says Ruthe Farmer, the chief evangelist at the CSforAll Consortium, in an Education Week blog.

Farmer and other experts tell Education Week that the White House focus on computer science indicates that both sides of the aisle are invested in this issue.

The push for federal support also sparked action from the tech industry. Shortly after the White House released the memo, Amazon, Facebook, Google, Microsoft and Salesforce pledged a total of $300 million for computer science education, reports The New York Times.

“It’s essential that the public and private sectors work together to ensure all American students have the opportunity to learn computer science and take part in the fastest growing sector of our economy,” says Michael Beckerman, CEO of Internet Association, a trade organization that announced the donations.

The New York Times reports that while the donations will be dispersed over the next five years, some of the companies will also give schools software and other technology to support student learning.

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