EDITORIAL: Computer science: Another reason to appreciate Park county school district No. 1

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Lawmakers and education leaders from around the state are debating whether computer science should be a mandatory part of K-12 education in Wyoming.

But there appears to be one thing everyone agrees on: Park County School District No. 1 is at the head of the class.

“It’s pretty much known statewide that Powell’s school district is doing some amazing things with computer science,” Sen. Ray Peterson, R-Cowley, said recently.

“Powell’s leading the charge,” added Rep. David Northrup, R-Powell, who previously served on the local school district’s board. “Everyone looks to Powell to see what’s going on. There are other districts that are doing things, but not like we are.”

Powell is one of just five school districts in Wyoming that teaches computer science classes; the other 43 do not.

But things may be changing.

The Legislature’s Joint Education Committee has sponsored a bill, Senate File 29, that would require schools to teach computer science and computational thinking; high school students would be allowed to take computer science to fill one of their three years of science required for graduation.

This push for a stronger emphasis on computer science is being supported by Gov. Matt Mead as well.

“In this day and age, it’s as important as math, English,” he said recently.

Mead is among 16 governors across the U.S. who have joined the Governors’ Partnership for K-12 Computer Science.

The partnership’s website declares that, “To meet the demands of the workforce and prepare our children for the jobs of the future, it is essential that students be exposed to the field of computer science in our K-12 education system.”

Beyond the need for an educated workforce, “computing is now a fundamental part of daily life,” says the GovsForCS site.

It’s hard to deny that computer science is becoming increasingly important. What gets difficult — and what lawmakers will have to sort out — is how schools can make room for new curriculum.

For the many districts that don’t have computer science classes, teaching another set of skills could bring new costs.

It seems only fair that legislators should provide additional funding for the state’s school districts if they’re going to tack on more requirements. Of course, the problem is that there isn’t any extra money laying around. Lawmakers have tapped deep into reserve accounts already and it doesn’t seem like the right time to put more dollars into the education system.

That means the Legislature will have its work cut out going into next week’s budget session.

The consensus around the state appears to be what local folks already know: that the Powell school district is doing things the right way, including with computer science. But here’s another thing we hope lawmakers recognize: The district has excelled in computer science without any mandates from the state. As our legislators work to ensure that Wyoming’s youth receive a 21st century education, we hope they’ll provide districts enough flexibility to make the new requirements work for their students.

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