By Spencer Willems
LITTLE ROCK — The House Education Committee passed a bill Tuesday requiring public high schools to teach computer science.
Its sponsor, Rep. Bill Gossage, R-Ozark, told the committee the legislation is a education priority for Gov. Asa Hutchinson. House Bill 1183 would also create a task force to develop standards and strategies for improving computer science instruction in Arkansas, including classes on computer programming and coding.
“Our students are consumers of technology,” Gossage said. “[Hutchinson’s] vision is that our students become more than consumers but producers of technology.
If enacted, HB1183 would require high schools to offer courses either in-house or through Virtual Arkansas, online instruction that is provided through a partnership between the Arkansas Department of Education and the Arkansas Education Service Cooperatives.
The $2,500 fee per school district to use Virtual Arkansas, as well as costs per student, would be waived in the next school year, Gossage said.
Gossage said in the United States, only about 5 percent of high school students are exposed to computer coding classes. In Chinese schools, he said, coding classes are mandatory.
“It’s not the kids I’m worried about,” Gossage said. “They’re going to love this. It’s converting the adults [to supporting computer education].”
Earlier in the meeting, the committee voted down a bill already passed by the Senate allowing school districts to temporarily exceed by two students the cap on class sizes set by state law.
The sponsor of Senate Bill 76, Sen. Bart Hester, R-Cave Springs, said the legislation would allow districts flexibility in dealing with unexpected increases in enrollment. It would only apply to classes that began the semester at or below the cap and would only last for the duration of the semester.
Hester said many school districts have new students show up unexpectedly in grades where classes are full, and the districts aren’t always in a position to hire new teachers.
“Classroom size is a pivotal part of education, but the problem we’re trying to correct here is when you have your classroom size [at capacity] … they have one child show up … according to current law, immediately they have to become compliant,” Hester said.
Currently, Hester said, most districts enroll the child anyway, breaking the state rule.
But many legislators worried the temporary waiver would be abused and effectively increase the overall size of classes.
“We talk about losing good teachers [in Arkansas],” said Rep. Sheilla Lampkin, D-Monticello. “This is why. Because we overburden them.”
The committee also unanimously passed a bill to protect yoga teaching schools and other instructor-training programs from regulation by the state Board of Private Career Education.
A month ago, the board denied yoga-teacher training schools an exemption from regulation. A national group, the Yoga Alliance, argued most of what its teacher trainers do is “avocational,” and the board exceeded its mandate.
The legislation, SB94, was sponsored by Sen. Uvalde Lindsey, D-Fayetteville and Rep. Charlie Collins, R-Fayetteville. Collins said it was a regulation in search of a problem.
“If we start having problems with yoga instructors being incompetent … with schools abusing their students or all sorts of other problems, I’m very happy to revisit this,” Collins said. “But that’s not the situation here. It’s something these people have been doing for many years. It ain’t broken and we don’t need to fix it.”
The committee also approved SB30, which would pare the minimum number of professional development days for public school teachers from 10 to 6.