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Bipartisan bill seeks to allow math credit for high school computer classes

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PHOENIX – A bill to allow Arizona high school students to take a computer science course in place of a required math course would make them more competitive for the growing number of technology jobs, two state lawmakers say.

Reps. Tom Forese, R-Gilbert, and Ruben Gallego, D-Phoenix, said they introduced HB 2265 after seeing a discrepancy in the number of computer science jobs in the Valley and graduates with the skills needed to get those jobs.

“You have this huge delta in terms of unemployment, yet the jobs of the future are already here and we’re not ready for them,” Forese said.

Arizona has many computer science jobs available, but the state’s three public universities aren’t graduating enough computer science majors to meet that demand, Forese said.

Gallego said he’s heard from business leaders who say they’d love to be able to hire Arizona graduates.

“When they can’t fulfill demand, they have to recruit from out of state and pay moving costs and a higher wage,” he said. “Local workers would cost the company less, and then you’re employing people here in Arizona.”

The bill’s bipartisan approach shows how valuable computer science could be for the state’s students, Forese said.

“It’s important to bring both parties together to really say emphatically that we’re putting a huge emphasis on making sure that at a high school level, students are being exposed to this opportunity,” Forese said.

The bill received a unanimous endorsement Monday from the House Education Committee.

According to state law, the Arizona State Board of Education requires students to take four credits of mathematics. The law says that “one credit that includes significant mathematics content as determined by the local school district governing board or charter school” may be used as a math class.

HB 2265 would allow school district governing boards to allow computer science courses to count as math courses required for graduation. It would require the Arizona Board of Regents to accept those courses when considering students for admission.

The Arizona Department of Education’s position on the bill is neutral, but a statement from the agency said it wouldn’t change much for school districts.

“Because of the wording of this rule, it is our position that a school district is already free to adopt a computer science course to cover this fourth math credit if they deem it to ‘include significant mathematics content,’ and the bill is not really necessary,” said the statement, attributed to Christopher Kotterman, deputy director of policy development and government relations.

In the Tempe Union School District, students are offered honors and Advanced Placement computer programming courses and an honors mobile device-programming classes as math credits, taught by math teachers, according to Linda Littell, executive director of community relations for the district.

Gallego recognized that schools can already use a computer science class if they choose but said this legislation would send a message at the state level and inform parents of the options their children have.

“We want business, especially high-tech computer business, to understand that Arizona is a high-tech state and this is one of our priorities,” he said.

Forese said the bill would also encourage students to learn a skill that could even get them a job right after high school.

“Technology binds all businesses,” he said. “There’s a huge need, and we want to make sure that we’re providing leadership.”