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New Mississippi Law Requires Computer Science in Schools

With IT professionals in growing demand, Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves signed a bill last week requiring all the state’s elementary, middle and high schools to teach computer science by the 2024-25 academic year.

School Computers
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment openings in computer science and other IT-related careers are projected to grow by at least 11 percent by 2029. While those job openings will grow faster than in other fields, states have had to compete for computer scientists and IT talent as demand for tech workers continues to outpace the number of available candidates.

Noting these demands, Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves signed House Bill 633 last week to require the state Department of Education to establish a computer science curriculum for all elementary, middle and high schools by the 2024-25 academic year. The bill comes as more than 30 other states, notably including Rhode Island and Arkansas, continue other initiatives to make computer science a core part of their public schools’ curriculums.

State Rep. Kent McCarty says the goal of the law is for Mississippi to produce its own pool of IT talent in the years to come. 

“Introducing computer science curriculum at the elementary, middle and high school level is a huge step in the right direction for the next generation of Mississippians. We need to expose our students at the earliest possible level to the tools they need for the jobs of the future, and this bill does that,” said McCarty, who serves as vice-chair of the state’s education committee.

In 2016, the state announced its Computer Science 4 Mississippi initiative to train computer science course instructors. Mississippi Rep. Richard Bennett, chair of the education committee, said there's still work to be done to help fill computer science career openings.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, many of these openings focus on cloud computing, data storage and information security. Bennett said there are currently about 1,500 IT-related openings in Mississippi alone. Meanwhile, only half of the state's schools offer computer science curriculum courses.

“For Mississippi to attract new businesses, we need to focus on building a high-quality, well-educated workforce in each community across the state," he said.

McCarty said the bill will require the state Department of Education to formulate a list of high-quality courses and approved vendors to work as partners in the bill's goals. He said state officials have allocated about $1 million in state funding for the law's requirements. Mississippi-based tech company C Spire is donating an additional $1 million toward education department efforts.

McCarty also noted that legislators and state officials were considering such legislation before this year. The bill, he said, had broad support among lawmakers but died in committee when the COVID-19 pandemic interrupted last year's legislative sessions.

The Department of Education's Chief Academic Officer Nathan Oakley said education officials will develop courses and additional guidelines required through the legislation set to take effect this summer.

“Education leaders, industry partners and elected officials recognize the growing job market in computer science and are committed to creating new computer science opportunities in the coming years,” he said in an email. “Mississippi has adopted computer science standards, and many districts have already shifted from older technology courses to updated computer science courses to meet graduation requirements."

Brandon Paykamian is a staff writer for Government Technology. He has a bachelor's degree in journalism from East Tennessee State University and years of experience as a multimedia reporter, mainly focusing on public education and higher ed.