The U.S. Department of Education just made a major move to support expanding K-12 computer science, especially for underserved student populations. For the very first time, the Department has exclusively prioritized funding for computer science in one of its major grant programs. This news builds on years of momentum and is a moment to celebrate the work of all our partners in the Code.org Advocacy Coalition and the broader CS community.
Why is it important to prioritize computer science?
Few disagree that schools should offer computer science, not only because jobs in computing are the largest and fastest-growing sector of new wages, but because nearly every future career will rely on digital skills.
Yet, history shows that when CS isn’t prioritized, it is woefully underfunded. Under the prior administration, federal science technology engineering and math (STEM) funding prepared 24,000 math and science teachers, but only 75 CS teachers. Less than 1% of STEM funding went to CS! This makes no sense, considering that the majority of new STEM jobs are in computing.
Although almost all parents consider CS just as important as math or English, most schools don’t even teach it; CS must be prioritized until it is offered equitably in every school, so every student has the opportunity to study it.
Background on our effort to secure federal funding for CS
Code.org and our coalition of partners have spent five years advocating for federal support for CS in schools.
In 2016, President Obama responded to our call and asked Congress for $4 billion. Despite the vocal support of almost 200 leaders from business, education, and state governors, the $4B never materialized (although $20M/year of NSF funding was allocated to CS education research).
In 2017, Code.org celebrated the new administration’s commitment to spend at least $200 million/year on STEM and computer science education. 75% of public comments to the Department of Education called for CS to be prioritized exclusively. Despite our hopes, CS was merged with STEM as a combined priority, and received only a small fraction of 2018 funding.
With growing public support for CS, the administration recognized it should do more; and now, in 2019, the Department of Education has finally given computer science an exclusive “competitive priority” within a major grant program, with a focus on increasing diversity and equity in access. (Details below)
To our supporters
Success in education doesn’t come in a single day or week or month. It takes years and years of effort. While this new funding prioritization is a big step forward, it will take years of effort by dozens of organizations before it materializes into actual change for students in classrooms.
We are still far, far away from realizing our vision. The majority of schools do not offer a single course in computer science, and even in those that do, only a small fraction of the students are young women or underrepresented minorities.
As we celebrate this policy success, we want to thank you for your continued support of the movement to give every student in every school the opportunity to study computer science.
– Cameron Wilson and Hadi Partovi, Code.org
Details: A “competitive priority” within EIR
Any application to the early phase tier of the Education Innovation and Research (EIR) program can get up to 5 bonus points for computer science. The competitive priority also requires organizations applying for a CS grant to focus on reaching underserved populations such as underrepresented minorities, women, rural students, students with disabilities, and students from low-income families.
Applicants must still meet the required priorities of the program, including the research requirements and “absolute” priorities for the program.
Calling all CS organizations to submit high-quality applications
Because this is a “competitive” priority and not an “absolute” priority, funding for CS is not guaranteed. Whether any funding goes to CS depends on the quality of grant applications that include a CS component.
Due to the competitiveness of Federal education programs, it is rare to win a grant without the bonus points of addressing a competitive priority, so we expect most of the successful grant applicants to include a significant CS component.
We also recognize that CS is a nascent field in education (compared to math or science), supported by younger organizations and fewer years of research. One goal of the EIR early-phase program is to build stronger evidence, to gain eligibility for higher tiers of funding. To unlock the full potential of federal funding for CS, we encourage all K-12 CS organizations to consider submitting a high-quality application.
How does one apply for a grant?
Organizations have just over two weeks to declare their intention to apply (deadline: Feb 21), and eight weeks until the final application must be submitted (deadline: Apr 2). Within the early phase tier of EIR the Department expects to fund about 25 proposals, with a maximum funding of $4 million over 5 years. This could result in ~$75 million for CS if most of these awards follow the competitive priority.
To apply, make sure to read our summary of the program, and submit an application that meets the research requirements and the absolute priorities, with a focus on computer science and a plan to reach underserved student populations.