- Associated Press - Tuesday, February 3, 2015

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) - An Arkansas House committee on Tuesday unanimously supported Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s plan and campaign promise to offer computer science courses to high school students.

Public high schools would be required to offer the “high-quality” virtual courses starting in the fall but students would not be required to take them. The bulk of the bill approved by the House Committee on Education details the formation of a task force to expand on the initiative and provide additional course offerings.

Republican Rep. Bill Gossage of Ozark said there will be little or no costs to districts that offer the courses in the 2015-2016 school year. The only cost to a school, officials said, would be a teacher’s salary if a school wanted someone to oversee the course.

“This gives us an opportunity to move forward and be a state which is a leader in computer science and computer coding,” Gossage said.

The courses would be offered online through Virtual Arkansas, a digital delivery system that serves 180 districts in the state. Gossage said the goal is to turn students who consume technology into people who produce it.

“It’s not the kids I’m worried about; they’re going to love this,” Gossage said. “It’s converting all of the adults who grew up in a different world than our kids are growing up in.”

Mike Hernandez, deputy commissioner of the state Department of Education, said he’s not sure how much the project would immediately cost the state. He said future costs to districts and the state are dependent on what the task force recommends.

Hutchinson last week proposed using $5 million from the state’s surplus for the computer science expansion. Spokesman J.R. Davis said Tuesday that the governor’s office is still working out the details on how that money would be spent.

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Follow Allen Reed on Twitter at www.twitter.com/allen_reed

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