The following is an opinion piece submitted by Jeff Tollefson, CEO of the Minnesota Technology Association, to the Star Tribune 

Look across Minnesota and nearly every industry is impacted by digital technology. Whether in agriculture, healthcare, manufacturing, finance, retail, transportation, education, or the arts, computer literacy is an important skill for our current and future workforce. Computer science coursework provides an essential foundation to students — not only for careers in technology, but for every career in today’s world.

But sadly, Minnesota ranks LAST in the nation in terms of the percentage of high schools offering computer science coursework, at just 21%. This puts us well behind 49th ranked Louisiana (32%) and significantly behind neighboring states such as Iowa (71%) and Wisconsin (66%). To our west, North Dakota just passed legislation making CS a graduation requirement for all students. While other states recognize the importance of preparing students for the technology-enabled jobs of the future, Minnesota falls further behind.

The time to act is now. To this end, the Minnesota Computer Science Education Advancement Act (HF0759/SF0757) was introduced this legislative session to require the development of a statewide CS plan and $4 million of funding to help school districts across Minnesota add CS coursework into K-12 curriculum. But despite widespread support from students, parents, educators, and business leaders, funding for CS education was not included in the Senate omnibus education bill and at only $500,000 in the House, well below the relatively modest $4 million requested by bill authors to jumpstart Minnesota’s lagging computer science initiatives. Minnesota’s students and employers deserve better.

Why should Minnesotans care?

    • Computer science is a foundational skill for K-12 students – a new form of literacy. It develops students’ computational and critical thinking skills and teaches them how to create, and not just use, technology. Studies have shown children who study computer science perform better in core subjects, excel at problem-solving and are more likely to attend college. Providing access to every student in Minnesota is critical to preparing them to be productive members of society and our state’s economy.
    • Every child deserves the opportunity to succeed in a technology driven world. However, there is not equitable access to CS learning opportunities in Minnesota by race, gender, or geography. By passing state-wide policy, we can ensure every student has access to CS education and the opportunities it affords.
    • Business demand for tech talent continues to outpace available supply. With a large portion of our current workforce nearing retirement and a growing demand for digitally-skilled talent well into the future, we have an urgent need to better prepare our youth for these roles. Computing jobs are some of the most stable and highest-paying in today’s economy, yet we continue to underproduce this vital pool of talent.  Providing more equitable access to CS education will help grow and diversify Minnesota’s tech workforce of the future.
    • Without state-level policy and funding, most school districts will be unable to implement independently. Minnesota’s education system puts a lot of control in our local school districts. With districts facing many competing priorities for time and funding, it will take state-level policy and funding to ensure every student in Minnesota has access to computer science education, regardless of zip code.

We call on Governor Walz and legislative leaders to prioritize computer science education in the final state budget so that all students in Minnesota may have access to high-quality CS learning opportunities, enabling them to become skilled technologists and fill the tech jobs of tomorrow. The future of Minnesota’s innovation economy depends on it.

Show Your Support for Computer Science Education

Visit the website to send an automated letter to your representatives as well as the the chairs of the house and senate education finance committees letting them know the importance of this bill and asking for their support. Your advocacy is needed to pass this critical bill and secure funding for computer science education in the state of Minnesota.

Contact your representatives today.