- Associated Press - Monday, March 7, 2016

PAWTUCKET, R.I. (AP) - Rhode Island is partnering with Microsoft and other organizations to bring computer science education to all of the state’s public schools.

Democratic Gov. Gina Raimondo announced the initiative Monday that taps professional engineers to volunteer to help teachers and their students learn coding skills.

A consortium that includes local universities and the tech giant’s philanthropic arm will introduce new courses in elementary through high school.

Raimondo said the goal is to prepare young people for jobs in the tech-driven economy and narrow racial and gender disparities in the field.

“That means girls, people of color, lower-income people,” she told a diverse student assembly in the auditorium of Pawtucket’s Tolman High School. “We’re breaking down the barriers because everybody deserves a chance.”

Raimondo described the program not just as an education initiative but as a way of fostering a talent pool that will draw more businesses and jobs to the state. Just 42 public school students took the advanced placement test in computer science last year, and only 26 passed, she said. Of those who took the test, few were girls and none was black or Latino.

Some cities, including San Francisco, Chicago and New York City, have launched similar initiatives. Rhode Island officials say they are the first to attempt such a comprehensive program at a statewide level.

Mary Snapp, who heads Microsoft Philanthropies, said Rhode Island will be a “critical part” of the expansion of the company-funded TEALS program that pairs engineers with teachers. TEALS, which started in 2009, stands for Technology Education and Literacy in Schools.

The state aims to offer computer science in each of its schools by the end of 2017.

“The speed at which it will be done will be an amazing test case for us,” Snapp said.

Other partners participating in the education initiative include Code.org, Project Lead the Way, Brown University’s Bootstrap program and the University of Rhode Island.

Raimondo’s annual budget proposal also set aside $260,000 for computer science education programming, much of which will be used for the professional development of teachers, said Richard Culatta, the state’s chief innovation officer who will help coordinate the initiative from his office at Rhode Island College.

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