State Politics

No more foreign language swap in Legislature’s coding bill

Jacqueline Nguyen, 16, grins after successfully solving a coding sequence during an intensive computer skills summer immersion program for girls, presented by Florida International University’s School of Computing and Information Sciences and Girls Who Code.
Jacqueline Nguyen, 16, grins after successfully solving a coding sequence during an intensive computer skills summer immersion program for girls, presented by Florida International University’s School of Computing and Information Sciences and Girls Who Code. Miami Herald file photo

The Florida House isn’t supporting a controversial proposal to let high school students count computer coding as a foreign language course, likely stalling the concept for the second straight session.

Instead, a House subcommittee on Monday passed an amended version of HB 265 that removes any mention of foreign languages and focuses more on how the state Department of Education can better promote computer science learning in Florida’s public schools.

The original proposal — which was first pitched in 2016 but didn’t pass — hasn’t gotten very much traction so far this session. The Senate version of it (SB 104) cleared its first of two committees during an early committee week in January, but it hasn’t been taken up again since.

Monday’s hearing in the House Pre-K-12 Quality Subcommittee was the first for the House bill.

RELATED: “Computer coding as a foreign language? Florida lawmakers again push the idea”

Foreign language advocates — including Miami-Dade Public Schools — and minority advocacy groups have staunchly opposed lawmakers’ original idea to let computer coding be used as an equal equivalent to courses that teach traditional foreign languages, like Spanish or French.

Proponents have said allowing the substitute might better help students prepare for in-demand jobs in the technology sector, with some also questioning the practical value of learning a foreign language that a student might not use again in their adult life.

The House’s new bill seems to keep that mission of career-readiness, while also calming the immediate fears of critics.

It would require a state committee set up by the state DOE and State University System to develop recommendations on how to prepare students for computer science and information technology jobs — including identifying high school courses that could help do that and what gaps exist in current curriculum, what skills students would need to meet labor demands and how students can be better encouraged to consider such jobs.

The House Pre-K-12 Quality Subcommittee unanimously approved the updated version with little discussion. The bill has two more committee stops before it could reach the House floor.

Rep. Elizabeth Porter, R-Lake City, said she would still like to find a way “maybe this year, if not next year” to find a carve-out in state law for students with speech and learning disabilities who struggle to meet foreign language requirements needed for college and university admissions. Parents and children with such disabilities advocated strongly for the original version of the bill, citing the benefits it would bring to those students who have extenuating circumstances.

The House was also the obstacle in 2016 in getting the original coding bill passed. The plan easily cleared the Senate with only 5 of 40 senators objecting, but the House never held a floor vote, killing the bill for that session.

Kristen M. Clark: 850-222-3095, kclark@miamiherald.com, @ByKristenMClark

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