Neb. Bill requires computer technology courses for graduation

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Passing a computer technology course would be required for Nebraska high school students to graduate under a bill finally approved Tuesday. photo

By PAUL HAMMEL
Nebraska Examiner

LINCOLN — In Arkansas, enrollment in technology-related college courses increased 10-fold after the state passed a requirement that school children pass computer-related courses.

“Now they have companies moving there because they have skilled workers,” said Mike Cassling, CEO of a health technology company in Omaha.

Cassling was among supporters of an increase in computer technology courses who hailed final approval Tuesday of a bill that, by 2026-27, will require Nebraska high school graduates to pass at least one five-credit hour course in computer science or technology.

Shortage of technicians

Cassling, CEO of CQuence Health Group, leads the Nebraska Tech Collaborative, a coalition of 100 of the state’s top employers, educators and philanthropists advocating for better tech education.

He said Nebraska is currently experiencing a labor “crisis” — a shortage of 4,000 tech workers, a shortage that is expected to reach 10,000 within four years.

They are not just computer programmers, but also cybersecurity workers, skilled employees who can operate automated manufacturing systems and manage high-tech agricultural operations.

“If we don’t fix this, companies will be looking to move their offices,” Cassling said.

On Tuesday, state senators gave final 33-11 approval to Bill 1112, the Computing and Technology Act.

State Senator Terrell McKinney of Omaha (Courtesy of Craig Chandler, University Communication)
State Senator Terrell McKinney of Omaha (Courtesy of Craig Chandler, University Communication)

The bill, co-sponsored by the senses. Terrell McKinney of Omaha and Julie Slama of Sterling, give schools until the 2024-25 school year to incorporate computer and technology classes into their K-12 curriculum, in consultation with the Department of Education from Nebraska. .

Rural senators oppose it

The measure, which was modeled after a similar law passed in Arkansas in 2015, ran into last-minute opposition from rural senators. They argued that smaller schools will find it difficult to add another “unfunded term” and that this could prevent some students from graduating.

“I don’t think we should make it harder for kids to graduate from high school,” Columbus Sen. Mike Moser said.

Venango Sen. Dan Hughes claimed the bill was inspired by a business and a lobbyist, which he said was not the way to expand the school curriculum.

But LB 1112 supporters, including McKinney, have dismissed that charge. They said the bill was inspired by a general concern about preparing children for 21st century jobs.

“We should prepare our children for the future. If we don’t, we won’t be able to attract business to the state,” McKinney said.

State Senator Mike Flood (Craig Chandler/University Communications)
State Senator Mike Flood (Craig Chandler/University Communications)

Upcoming Automation

Norfolk Sen. Mike Flood said automation is coming to Nebraska and promises, by 2030, to eliminate many of the low-skilled, low-paying jobs that currently exist in rural areas.

Employment at a pork processing plant in his district could be cut by two-thirds, he said, and the giant Nucor steelworks near Norfolk already employs around half the workforce that it had in the 1970s due to automation.

“We’re sitting ducks in Nebraska,” Flood said. “I actually think it’s a labor emergency.”

“Everything is changing,” he added. “This bill is necessary.

Elkhorn Senator Lou Ann Linehan added, “You’re not going to be successful in the future if you don’t have those skills.”

State Senator Lynn Walz of Fremont (Courtesy of the Unicameral Information Office)
State Senator Lynn Walz of Fremont (Courtesy of the Unicameral Information Office)

McKinney as well as Fremont Sen. Lynne Walz, who chairs the Legislature Education Committee, pledged to work over the summer with small school districts and the state Department of Education to ensure the addition of computer training requirements will not overburden small schools.

LB 1112 foresees that the new technical courses could be taught online, but Cassling said training will be needed for teachers. He added that some schools already offer such courses, but most do not, and said it was important to offer the right courses.

No expensive tuition fees

In Arkansas, in addition to growing interest in tech careers in general, Cassling said the requirement has caused a 50-fold increase in the number of women and students of color enrolled in tech courses.

Unlike medical or law school, he added, tech education doesn’t require expensive tuition fees or large student loans.

LB 1112 is now heading to Governor Pete Ricketts for his signature. Cassling said the governor has come out in favor of the bill in the past.

Overall, Cassling said, it’s been a good year for those promoting computer education. As part of the state budget, an additional $20 million will be invested in internship programs, including at tech companies. The Nebraska Tech Collaborative raises $5 million in matching funds for paid internships.

“Everything we do now is tied to technology, whether it’s your iPhone or whatever,” Cassling said. “We need children to understand this and develop their skills.”

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