A controversial idea to allow high school students to count computer coding classes toward foreign language credits cleared its second committee in the Florida Senate on Wednesday -- but senators did not seek to resolve concerns it could impose an unfunded mandate on schools.
Sen. Jeremy Ring, D-Margate, had previously said the Senate's education budget committee would address the fiscal impact of his plan (SB 468), but that panel on Wednesday discussed nothing about the dollars that might be needed to fund it.
Ring said after the meeting that he felt there were no financial impacts, because Senate committee staff didn't note any when reviewing the bill. The analysis acknowledges, however: "The bill may have a minimal fiscal impact on school districts as they shift resources to offer more computer coding courses."
Some senators previously worried that the bill would place a burden on schools -- especially those with already strapped technology resources -- by requiring them to have sufficient computers, software and specialized teachers to meet the demand of students who opt to learn coding in lieu of a foreign language.
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Sen. Dwight Bullard, D-Cutler Bay, said he voted against it again Wednesday because his concerns weren't addressed. The rest of the Senate budget committee voted in favor of the bill.
"All it takes is that one parent and it overburdens schools when they say, 'I want my child to have computer coding,' because now you have to figure out how to facilitate a teacher and space," Bullard said. "All of those have dollars attached, and none of those concerns were remedied."
The bill has one more committee stop where its potential fiscal impact could be vetted: the Senate Appropriations Committee. A House version of the proposal hasn't been considered by committees in that chamber yet.
The proposal has significant support from business and trade organizations, including Associated Industries of Florida, the Florida Technology Council and Motorola.
However, advocates of world languages object.
"Computer coding is not the same as foreign languages," said Linda Markley, advocacy chair for the Florida Foreign Language Association. She said businesses she's talked to indicated that "if they need to hire someone for a job, a language skill is going to trump any skills they can train them for."
She noted that Code.org -- a nonprofit that advocates teaching students computer coding -- also doesn't view the technical skill as equivalent to a foreign language.
Ring, a former Yahoo executive, said Code.org is simply "wrong" in its perspective.
"I don't know how else to put it: They're wrong," Ring said. "If you don't have an understanding of technology, you're not going to compete. ... If you want to bring meaning to technology, you have to put it in the arts and humanities. It's not a math or science anymore; it's gone past that."