Gov. Asa Hutchinson told a group of startup executives and entrepreneurs visiting Little Rock that one of his educational visions is for 20% of Arkansas students to eventually take computer coding classes while in high school.
“When that happens, we will be producing and putting 6,000 computer coders into the Arkansas economy every year. Does that not have the opportunity to provide a lot of ‘sauce’ to the entrepreneurial spirit of Arkansas? That is what I am excited about,” the governor told a touring delegation of tech and startup entrepreneurs at the downtown Little Rock Venture Center.
The group was in Central Arkansas at the invitation of the Venture Center, the Little Rock Chamber-created nonprofit startup accelerator that is one of the new tenants housed in the downtown Technology Center. The guest entrepreneurs were in town to talk with local officials about ways to further develop the region’s so-called “startup ecosystem,” organizers said.
In his 15-minute conversation and Q&A session with about 15 startup executives and tech innovators from across the U.S., Hutchinson told the story he now often tells in economic development and business settings of his recent interview with Wired Magazine about the state’s national leadership role in teaching computer coding at the high school level.
During the recent legislative session, state lawmakers passed a law that was part of Hutchinson’s legislative agenda mandating that computer coding be taught in high schools and charter schools across the state.
The Arkansas House voted unanimously in early February to pass House Bill 1183 by Rep. Bill Gossage, R-Ozark, which Hutchinson has touted as his signature education proposal. The bill, now Act 187, also will create a temporary task force to explore avenues for the computer science course to be offered.
In addition, local school districts will be able to create their own classes or take advantage of the Arkansas Department of Education’s Virtual Arkansas course. The usual fee of $2,500 charged to districts to offer a Virtual Academy course will now be waived.
On Wednesday at the Venture Center, Hutchinson also mentioned that he has allocated $5 million to support his key initiative.
“I want to tell you how important this is to the state of Arkansas. We can’t grow our economy without entrepreneurs,” Hutchinson said. “We can’t grow our economy without new ideas, new investment strategies, startup businesses, new ventures and entrepreneurs taking risks.”
The governor added: “Our job is to make sure we continue to lead the nation.”
Before the governor talked with the group, Little Rock Mayor Mark Stodola welcomed the visiting delegation to the city and spoke about his administration’s efforts to bring the $22 million Little Rock Technology Park to the downtown area. He said he was proud of the fact that the city was able to approve a $22 million tax for the project in the middle of a recession.