The Tech Companies Helping Obama Make Computer Science a National Priority

Congress probably won't do a whole lot with President Obama’s final budget proposal, which includes a $4 billion commitment to computer science education. But the president has enlisted a bunch of tech companies to support the effort, and help him push for it as a national priority in the future. 

At this point, when President Obama sends something to Congress, the immediate response is pretty much “LOL thanks.” So even though the president announced $4.1 billion in proposed funding in support of his Computer Science for All Initiative, that number might not make it beyond the tech blog headlines. Which is too bad, because you’d think science education is something that both sides of the aisle, which is currently flowing with fiery hot lava, could agree on. 

That’s not to say the initiative is all for nothing, however, as it is committing $135 million in existing funding for things like teacher training. But the real value in the initiative is Obama’s use of the bully pulpit to leverage corporate partners and build momentum for the issue as a national concern. 


A major part of that momentum involves the private sector philanthropy it's been able to drum up. Here are some of the greatest hits from the growing list of tech industry backers the initiative has recruited: 

  • In September, Microsoft committed $75 million through its YouthSpark program, already a $500 million effort.
  • Google, which has been putting funding toward getting more girls coding, will invest $23 million and emphasize women and minorities in tech. 
  • Cartoon Network is launching a $30 million initiative to engage young people in coding through MIT’s Scratch and lending some of its cartoon characters.
  • will invest $13 million for CS and STEM education, including improving broadband access in K-12 schools.
  • Facebook, Apple, and Mozilla will offer various resources to improve access to coding education.  

Obama’s commitments combined with the support from industry serves a couple of purposes. First, it does actually fund education programs. Second, it starts to build a base of advocates to make this an issue for the country in the future. If Obama can’t advance his programs, maybe the next president can.  

Microsoft’s Brad Smith blogged about the initiative, emphasizing that government funding will eventually need to come around in a big way on this, invoking the American history of post-Sputnik education investment. 

“(T)he private sector and philanthropy cannot fill this gap without public funding. And if we’re going to accelerate progress as a nation, we need federal funding. That’s why today’s proposal is so important. It can provide the accelerant to help more states and school districts progress more quickly,” he writes. 

While federal funding for this work is a big part of the proposal, the momentum Obama and the tech partners seek also involves getting states and cities to make this a priority. After all, federal funding is a relatively small part of education funding, so even the president’s $4 billion would still basically be a push to get a bigger ball rolling. 

Why the sense of urgency? Even if you don’t buy the STEM crisis, which is being challenged a lot lately, it’s tough to deny that computer science should be a more pervasive part of K-12 education. If nothing else, more widespread computer education in schools is necessary to break up the white-dude hegemony in the tech industry. But computer science is also going to be a part of an increasing number of non-STEM jobs, and if these players have their way, it will become a core part of schooling.