Trump Orders Up $200M a Year for STEM, Coding Education

President Donald Trump, who has had a rocky relationship with tech companies during his short administration so far, announced an education initiative Monday that apparently met with their approval.

In a White House ceremony, Trump directed his education secretary to allocate at least $200 million a year to fund student access to coursework in science, engineering, and especially, computer science.

“With the growing role of technology in driving the American economy, many jobs increasingly require skills in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM)—including, in particular, Computer Science,” Trump’s official memorandum on the directive states. “These skills open the door to jobs, strengthening the backbone of American ingenuity, driving solutions to complex problems across industries, and improving lives around the world.”

Under the new directive, U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos can devote the competitive grants to K-12 schooling through post-secondary educational programs. At least half of U.S. high schools currently lack computer programming instruction, and almost 40 percent don’t teach physics, Trump said at an Oval Office gathering that included school children along with government officials.

Trump joked with the students about the amount of money being advanced, according to a White House transcript. “What do you guys think? It’s peanuts, it’s peanuts, right? You’re going to say, ‘give us more.’ ‘’

More might be in the works, though not necessarily from the government. Trump’s daughter and advisor, Ivanka Trump, said she would appear in Detroit on Tuesday with representatives of the private sector as they unveiled their own contributions toward U.S. computer science education. Companies making such pledges may include Amazon, Facebook, Google, GM, Quicken Loans, and Salesforce, according to ReCode.

Trump’s Kumbaya moment with coding education advocates came during a week when the tech industry is still at odds with the president over immigration issues, such as the travel ban and his proposed removal of protections from deportation for the undocumented young “Dreamers” brought to the United States as children. Trump’s panels of business advisors dissolved in the aftermath of his belated condemnation of neo-Nazi demonstrators in Charlottesville, VA, in early August. And the president is still embroiled in a conflict with NFL players who have been refusing to stand during the national anthem—-gestures that began as a protest of police treatment of minority members, and now continue in defiance of Trump’s challenge to their right to express themselves during the playing of the national anthem in pre-game ceremonies.

The continuing controversies with Trump over immigration, race, and diversity didn’t stop an influential advocate of coding education in schools, Code.org CEO Hadi Partovi, from cooperating with the Trump administration on its new STEM education initiative.

“As I prepared to announce the news on behalf of Code.org, I knew many would ask me: “How can you support something the Trump administration is doing?” Partovi wrote in a LinkedIn post Monday. The non-profit organization offers free, open source, online instruction to expand access to computer science, especially for women and underrepresented minorities.

“My support for new computer science policy that benefits children does not reflect on how I feel about other actions by the Trump administration. As an Iranian child who fled my home at a time of war, I wouldn’t have been allowed as an immigrant in the U.S. under the immigration policies of this administration. Like most Americans, I was appalled by the events of Charlottesville, and I unequivocally denounce such racism,” Partovi wrote.

“My decision to advocate for this policy was simple: it will benefit our nation’s students, especially the ones who need it the most. America has 50 million students in our public schools. The opportunity to learn computer science shouldn’t be limited by the color of a student’s skin, or the neighborhood she lives in. I dedicated my life to solving this problem, and I believe that opportunity for children rises above politics.”

Code.org offers students and teachers free courses in coding, plus brief introductions to the experience of programming called Hour of Code. Partovi said he had worked often with President Barack Obama on the need for computer science instruction in schools, and finds Ivanka Trump “a passionate champion of computer science especially for girls. “

Partovi’s organization also praised the Trump initiative in a Medium post.

“Unlike similar proposals in previous years, today’s action delivers funding to schools, immediately. Besides expanding access to computer science in schools that previously didn’t teach it, the funds promise to increase participation by women and underrepresented minorities,” the Code.org post stated.

“This funding will jumpstart efforts to ensure every student in every school has the opportunity to learn computer science as part of a well-rounded education. For advocates of increased access and diversity in CS, this is the culmination of years of momentum that began in classrooms, spread to entire school districts, and won the support of business leaders and elected officials globally.”

Bernadette Tansey is Xconomy's San Francisco Editor. You can reach her at btansey@xconomy.com. Follow @Tansey_Xconomy

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