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I have just finished my ninth Computer Coding tour of Arkansas schools, and today I’d like to talk about our computer-science success.
I tour the state because I enjoy the chance to meet thousands of students and teachers and to see the work they are doing. I also like the chance to encourage students who think they aren’t interested in coding to take a class just to see what it’s all about.
I make this tour twice a year to spread the word that computer science leads to a good career. And a workforce that is trained in computer science is the foundation to growing Arkansas in a technology-driven economy.
In my first month as governor, I signed the law that required every high school to teach computer science. We were the first state to do that, and our national reputation grew.
More importantly, so did enrollment in computer science courses. Enthusiasm for coding exceeded my expectations, and our numbers back up our reputation. When I became governor, only 1,100 students in the entire state were enrolled in a computer science class.
This past school year, the number rose to more than 8,000, an increase of 620 percent over 2015. The number of girls enrolled in computer science has increased from 223 in 2015 to over 2,400 today. That is an increase of more than a thousand percent over four years.
But it is the individual stories that tell our story best. When I visited Buffalo Island on the spring tour, students demonstrated software that will detect CO2 emissions from soil. At Brinkley, a 6-year-old showed me a watch he has programmed.
On the first day of our last tour, I announced that we have increased the stipend for teachers who are trained and certified to teach computer science. Now teachers who return to school for further training can receive a $2,000 stipend every year for up to five years.
To further motivate and honor teachers, we’ve created an award for the Computer Science Educator of the Year. Our first teacher of the year was Karma Turner of Lake Hamilton High. Karma taught math for 21 years. In 2016, she taught her first coding class. Now she teaches coding levels one through four.
The stops on my autumn tour were Midland High School in Pleasant Plains; Armorel High School in Blytheville; Calico Rock High School; Foreman High School; Sylvan Hills Middle School in Sherwood; Lonoke High School; Eureka Springs High School; and Mulberry High School.
I always tell students that if they know computer coding and have access to high-speed internet, they can sit on their front porch anywhere in Arkansas and run the world. After I spoke at Midland, a gentleman shared with me his wife is doing just that. She earns $70,000 a year working for an international data analytics company from their home in Pleasant Plains.
Arkansas has been one of the states to lead the way in computer science education. I want Arkansas to continue to lead.