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President Obama Wants $4 Billion to Bring Computer Science to All Schools

But the administration needs congressional approval for most of those billions.

Evan Vucci / Getty

In his weekly radio address, President Obama is calling for more than $4 billion in spending to help bring computer science into the curriculum of all elementary, middle and high schools.

“Today’s auto mechanics aren’t just sliding under cars to change the oil; they’re working on machines that run on as many as 100 million lines of code,” Obama said, according to a transcript of his remarks. “That’s 100 times more than the Space Shuttle. Nurses are analyzing data and managing electronic health records. Machinists are writing computer programs.”

To be prepared for that means not only knowing how to use a computer, but how to program one as well. However, only 10 percent of U.S. high schools offer advanced placement computer science classes, and in 22 states such classes don’t count toward graduation requirements.

U.S. CTO Megan Smith* said in a conference call with reporters that nine in 10 parents want such education offered in their childrens’ schools. “They know in our new economy computer science isn’t an optional skill,” Smith said.

The Obama administration is looking to build bipartisan support for the appropriation, as nearly all of his spending plan would require congressional approval. Obama’s proposed budget, due next month, will call for $4 billion for states and $100 million directly for school districts to implement computer science education. The plan includes an additional $135 million from the National Science Foundation and another government agency that doesn’t require an okay from Capital Hill.

Beyond the money, there is also a need for teachers capable of leading such classes.

“I think the No. 1 challenge in all this is training new teachers,” said Brad Smith, the longtime Microsoft lawyer who now serves as president of the software giant.

He said as many as one million high-tech jobs may go unfilled by the end of the decade for lack of qualified talent. And other nations are eager to seize the opportunity.

“Other countries are moving ahead of the U.S.,” Smith told reporters. “Countries as large as China and the United Kingdom … and as small as Estonia embrace this cause. The U.S. is not yet moving at the pace we are going to need as a country.”

(* Kara Swisher is married to but separated from Megan Smith, chief technology officer for the Obama administration. See her ethics statement here.)

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