The White House will put at least $200 million in grant funding towards bolstering STEM and Computer Science education “particularly among historically underserved groups,” the administration announced Monday.
The minimum $200 million commitment from the Department of Education is supposed to bolstered by private sector contributions that senior administration officials say will be announced later this week.
The money will be available to schools across the country to bolster their science and technology programs, at the start of the 2018 fiscal year.
A senior administration official said that the White House had been having conversations with school superintendents and governors across the country, encouraging them to take advantage of the funding.
A majority of high schools in the U.S. do not currently offer computer science courses and 40 percent do not offer physics courses.
The administration’s push comes amid continued calls from technology companies for more skills training and reformed worker visas to fill high-demand technology and engineering roles. A senior administration official told reporters on a call that the initiative was born out of input from such companies seeking more STEM workers.
“Given the growing role of tech in American Industry, it is vital that our students become fluent in coding and computer science,” said Ivanka Trump on a press call with reporters before the announcement, noting that “the programs be designed with gender and racial diversity in mind.”
The White House's official acknowledgment of and attempts to fix racial and gender inequity in education conflicts with previous reports of the administration’s position on Affirmative Action and race in education. A New York Times report found that the White House was working project featuring “investigations and possible litigation related to intentional race-based discrimination in college and university admissions.”
A senior administration official pointed at the pay gap between genders in Silicon Valley as an example of the “enormous problem,” that needs to be addressed in skills training for tech jobs.
The administration contrasted the action with what they see as comparative inaction by the previous administration.
"This announcement marks a major milestone, because it’s not simply an acknowledgment of the issue, but it’s actually action upon the issue," the official said. "While the previous administration recognized that this was an important initiative ... they were not able to act upon it because they did not get the Congressional legislation they needed.”
Former President Obama’s $4 billion request for computer science training funding required Congressional action that never came through. The Trump administration’s announcement, by contrast, will be conducted through executive action.
Tech executives praised the new initiative, saying that it will help the country’s economy.
“Microsoft looks forward to partnering with other companies, nonprofit groups, and the federal and state governments to help bring computer science into America's mainstream education curriculum,” Microsoft’s President Brad Smith said in a statement. It’s good for our country, our businesses, and most importantly, our nation’s young people.”
"Today's action, in concert with other efforts, will expand computer science education pipeline for underserved groups, helping to fix these inequities and boost our economy,” added Michael Beckerman, President of the Internet Association, a group that lobbies on behalf tech companies like Google, Amazon and Facebook.