Arkansas expands stipend program for computer science teachers

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The Arkansas Department of Education has expanded its stipend program for computer science teachers, Gov. Asa Hutchinson announced Monday, to support further development of computer science programs for high school students and help address the shortage of STEM teachers.

The expanded stipend program will allow each high school computer science teacher in Arkansas to apply for up to $10,000 in stipends over a five-year period.

“The expansion of this stipend program will continue our efforts to ensure that our students have access to quality computer science courses in our schools,” Hutchinson said in a press release.

Although teachers may choose to spend the funds on computer science equipment, the stipend is intended for personal use in addition to teacher salary, a spokesperson for Hutchinson told EdScoop.

The stipend program started in 2015 when Hutchinson allocated $5 million to start the Arkansas Computer Science Initiative. During the first four years of the program, high school teachers who added a computer science endorsement to their licenses and taught courses in this field were able to apply for a one-time $2,000 stipend.

While 63 percent of public high schools in Arkansas offer computer science classes to students, according to Code.org — well above the national average of 35 percent — Arkansas continues to take steps to improve students’ access to computer science classes.

Since the creation of the stipend program, the “state has added more than 225 fully certified computer science teachers and has awarded over $200,000 in stipends directly to high school teachers,” the governor said. The goal is to help existing computer science teachers improve their skills, while motivating other educators to jump into the field, Hutchinson said.

However, despite this progress, Arkansas still needs more licensed computer science teachers.

Computer science for grades 4-12 has been designated as a critical academic shortage area, according to the Arkansas Department of Education, and schools across the country are facing the same challenge.

According to 100Kin10, a group dedicated to abating the STEM teacher shortage, financial compensation is key to incentivize careers in STEM education. By giving teachers access to more resources and professional development and creating a culture of support within education, schools can become a place where STEM professionals want to work, Talia Milgrom-Elcott, 100Kin10’s executive director, told EdScoop.

“So much, of course, about the workplace itself matters,” she said. “So if you’re working in a place where you are professionally growing, where you are collaborating, where someone cares about your experience, those things are super high impact.”

Most states have developed similar initiatives to address computer science class shortages, and several states, including Iowa, Florida and California, have developed professional development funds for computer science.

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