Hutchinson unveils plan to add computer science to high school curriculum

LITTLE ROCK — Republican candidate for governor Asa Hutchinson on Monday proposed making computer science part of the standard curriculum in the state’s high schools and a core requirement for graduation.

Most American schools do not officer computer science, and doing so would make Arkansas a national leader in technology education and job creation without a huge outlay of state funds, according to the former congressman who ran unsuccessfully for governor in 2006.

His campaign released details of the plan, which calls for changing state law to give math or science credit for computer science courses, then developing curricula and training teachers in basic computer science. The law could be changed at no cost, and utilizing established continuing education requirements would limit the cost of training teachers, according to the plan.

In some instances, costs for training could be provided with private funds, Hutchinson said, adding that even without generous private support, a reasonable estimate of the cost to use state funds for teacher training would be less than $1 million using the College Board, Oracle or the University of Phoenix. The cost would drop when state universities begin offering professional computer science training for teachers, he said.

The plan would utilize the existing plan to expand broadband in the state’s schools.

“Through encouraging computer science and technology as a meaningful career path, we will produce more graduates prepared for the information-based economy that represents a wide open job market for our young people,” Hutchinson said in a release. “Arkansas will also educate entrepreneurs who create and grow new technology businesses. All Arkansans will benefit from a growth of our technology fueled economy.

“Computer science will no longer be neglected in the State of Arkansas but it will be embraced.”

Hutchinson is one of three Republican candidates for governor, along with state Rep. Debra Hobbs and businessman Curtis Coleman.

In a statement Monday, Coleman called Hutchinson’s proposal “inadequate and out of touch.”

“While the computer science initiative he’s advocating will be beneficial, Mr. Hutchinson’s proposal as a comprehensive educational policy for Arkansas is distressingly lacking in vision and leadership,” Coleman said.

Also, he said, the plan does not address local control of schools, government-mandated standards and programs that he said hinder teachers, or the need to put vocational education back in schools and “more fully tune” community colleges to equipping graduates with skills Arkansas employers need.

A spokesman for former Congressman Mike Ross, the only announced Democratic candidate for governor, did not immediately return a call seeking comment Monday.

The Democratic Party of Arkansas released a statement listing votes it said Hutchinson made in Congress to curb education funding and deter higher standards in math and science.