Nebraska senators OK bill requiring computer science and technology classes in lower grades

Things pick up speed in the final days at the session

LINCOLN, Neb. (KLKN) – As Nebraska state senators enter the last few days of the session, they’re hitting the gas to get bills passed.

Thirty bills were passed within the first two hours on Tuesday morning.

Those included measures authorizing the Perkins County canal project, recognizing Juneteenth as a bank holiday, and creating a review act for domestic violence deaths and stillbirths in our state.

Only one bill sparked debate in the first half of the day, and it deals with adding computer science and technology education to the public school curriculum.

“I actually think this is an emergency, a workforce emergency,” Sen. Mike Flood said in support of Sen. Terrell McKinney’s bill, which lawmakers sent to the desk of Gov. Pete Ricketts.

If the bill becomes law, beginning in the 2024-25 school year, public schools will be required to include computer science and technology education in their elementary and middle school programs.  High schoolers will have to complete at least one related class before graduation.

“I don’t care if you live in rural Nebraska or North Omaha, I think we should be preparing our kids for the future,” McKinney said. “It’s an investment for the future in our state. If we don’t, our kids won’t be prepared, and we won’t be able to attract business to our state.”

Sen. Steve Erdman disagreed with the bill, saying it reminded him of the education system in China.

“Each path along the way, when you developed your skills, they determined where you would go next, and suddenly you’re off in the ditch digging field and there is no path forward to doing anything else,” he said.

Flood feels that it’s not about giving kids more work to do, but preparing them for the future of automation.

“The way you are creating wealth right now in America is by creating automated systems that get rid of those jobs in the middle, and we are sitting ducks in Nebraska,” he said. “Wealth is being created in Boston, in Austin, in San Jose because they are creating the systems that are disintermediating the economy and they are creating the wealth. What are they doing? They are creating solutions using technology to get rid of the people that are working in low-skill, low-wage jobs in states like ours.”

Those in opposition feel like schools in rural Nebraska will have a hard time accomplishing this goal.

“They can’t find teachers to teach math and science and those things that they now currently need teachers for,” Erdman said. “They have shared that there won’t be anybody that they can find to teach this class. The comment was made that they can do this online; it’s not the same as being in person.”

Opponents also said the education system has already failed in many areas.

“Make sure that kids graduate, that they can read, write and do arithmetic,” Sen. Curt Friesen said. “I think we are struggling in some places to get that done.”

Wednesday will bring more of the same in the Legislature as senators work fast to pass as many bills as possible.