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John Boozman Weekly Column: Back to School

The signs of a new academic year are all around us. Parents are filling up carts with school supplies, college students are moving into dorms and teachers are preparing their classrooms and lesson plans for a new school year. It’s an exciting time of year with the promise of new friends, teachers and skills. With all Arkansas public schools connected to secure, high speed broadband, students all across the state now have access to opportunities to better prepare them for the future.

Arkansas is placing great emphasis on empowering students to learn 21st century skills. The recent completion of the Arkansas Public School Network makes Arkansas one of only six states to have all of its public schools connected to high speed internet. This upgrade will link students across the state to learning opportunities all over the world. We hope and expect that it will also foster an interest in computer science and coding that could lead to highly competitive and good-paying jobs. Under Governor Asa Hutchinson’s leadership, interest in coding has increased by almost 400 percent in four years. The prospect of a labor pool trained and proficient in these new and developing technologies will help attract business to our state because they will recognize that Arkansas has the workforce they need.

I had the opportunity to participate in a coding exercise last school year. During my visit, it was clear that our students were confident this skill would help prepare them for job opportunities after they complete their education.

Schools across the state are finding innovative ways to enhance education in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). Fort Smith Public Schools is transitioning to digital classrooms, providing students with laptop computers and teaching them to learn online both in school and at home.

These updates to how and what we teach Arkansas students is laying a solid foundation for the future. At the federal level, we’re working to promote STEM opportunities for students of all ages.

The Senate-passed legislation to expand post-9/11 GI Bill benefits provides for increased resources and authority for educational assistance for veterans to pursue STEM programs. I was proud to author this provision in the Harry W. Colmery Veterans Educational Assistance Act of 2017 to allow veterans to learn valuable 21st century workforce skills such as computer coding and programming. Modernizing educational benefits allows our veterans to be more competitive in the global economy.

Promoting coursework that offers students training and skills to match the needs of employers is an investment in the workforce and the economic prospects of our state. As students and teachers head back to school we can be proud that they will have the tools to open doors for the future.

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