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Amy Li

Budget and Policy Post
March 10, 2020

The 2020-21 Budget

Governor’s Computer Science Proposals

In this post, we analyze the Governor’s proposals to increase the capacity of school districts to teach computer science. We first provide background on computer science in California schools, then describe the Governor’s proposals, assess the proposals, and offer associated recommendations.


State Recently Adopted Computer Science Standards. The state has adopted academic content standards that describe what students are expected to know by the end of each grade in each subject. Chapter 876 of 2014 (AB 1539, Hagman) required the state to consider adopting computer science content standards. The State Board of Education (SBE) ultimately adopted a set of computer science standards in September 2018. As directed by Chapter 693 of 2016 (AB 2329, Bonilla), the SBE subsequently adopted a strategic plan in May 2019 to provide guidance on implementing the computer science standards statewide.

Schools Are Not Required to Teach Computer Science. In contrast to most other subject areas for which the state has academic standards, students are not required to complete a computer science course to receive a high school diploma. However, computer science courses can be used to meet other graduation requirements. For example, school districts may decide to count a computer science course as a math, science, career technical education (CTE), or elective course, depending on the state standards covered by the course.

Teachers Can Be Authorized to Teach Computer Science in Two Different Ways. Some teachers are authorized to teach computer science based on the specific teaching credential they have obtained. The Commission on Teacher Credentialing (CTC) currently authorizes teachers with credentials in math, business, and industrial and technology education to teach computer science as a core academic course. CTE teachers with a credential in information and communication technology are authorized to teach computer science as a CTE course. Alternatively, teachers without these specific credentials can teach high school computer science courses with a supplementary authorization from CTC. This authorization, which was first adopted in 1987, was revised by CTC in April 2016. Teachers typically must complete at least four computer science courses at an accredited university to earn the authorization. Between 2015‑16 and 2018‑19, CTC issued a total of 151 supplementary authorizations in computer science. Most high school teachers with the computer science supplementary authorization taught either math or science.

Less Than Half of California High School Students Have Access to Computer Science Courses. In 2018‑19, 41 percent of high school students in California attended a school offering at least one computer science course. These schools have a slightly lower share of low-income students (53 percent) than the statewide average (57 percent). Research suggests rural schools are less likely to offer computer science courses compared to those in urban areas. As shown in Figure 1, among the students enrolled in computer science courses, Latino and African American students are underrepresented, particularly in more advanced-level courses. Female students are also less likely to enroll in computer science, representing only one-third of enrollment in computer science courses compared to roughly half of statewide high school enrollment.

Figure 1: Latino and African American Students Are Underrepresented in Advanced Computer Science Courses

State Funded Computer Science Professional Development in 2019‑20. The 2019‑20 budget provided $5.5 million for statewide computer science professional development as part of the Educator Workforce Investment Grant (EWIG). The professional development is intended to provide teachers with computer science learning experiences that support statewide implementation of the standards. The California Department of Education (CDE) is responsible for awarding one grant to a nonprofit organization or university for this purpose. At the time of this publication, CDE is reviewing applications and expects to award the grant in March 2020. The 2019‑20 budget also provided $1 million one time (to be used over four years) to fund a computer science coordinator at CDE. The coordinator is responsible for the statewide coordination and implementation of the computer science strategic plan.

California Subject Matter Projects (CSMPs) Provide Some Teachers Computer Science Training. The University of California offers teachers professional development in nine subject areas through the CSMP. This professional development typically includes workshops and ongoing trainings intended to improve and align teacher instruction to state standards. Both the California Science Project and California Math Project currently integrate computer science content into their professional development opportunities.

Most Students Do Not Meet State Standards in Math and Science. California adopted the Common Core State Standards for math and English in 2010. Statewide assessments aligned to the new standards were first administered to students in 2014‑15. In the first year of testing, 33 percent of students met or exceeded standards in math, while 44 percent met or exceeded standards in English. Test results have incrementally improved over time. In 2018‑19, 40 percent of students met or exceeded standards in math, while 51 percent met or exceeded standards in English. In 2013, the state also adopted new standards for science. In 2018‑19, the first year students were tested based on the new science standards, only 30 percent of test takers met or exceeded standards.

Student Test Scores Are One Component of State’s Accountability System. In 2013, the state adopted a new school accountability system that assesses school district performance in eight state priority areas. As Figure 2 shows, one indicator is student academic achievement—specifically, student performance in the state’s math and English standardized tests. (The SBE intends to include science in the future after multiple years of test results are available.) The performance indicators tied to these priority areas are displayed on the California School Dashboard website. Performance is measured for each district, school, and numerically significant student subgroup.

Figure 2

State Accountability System Based on Eight Priority Areas

Priority Area


Student achievement

Standardized test scores English learner progress

Student engagement

Graduation rate Chronic absenteeism

Other student outcomes

College and career readiness

Course access

Locally determined

School climate

Suspension rate Local school climate survey

Basic services

Locally determined

Implementation of state standards

Locally determined

Parent engagement

Locally determined

Numerous Experts Comprise State’s System of Support. A district that is identified as low performing in two or more state priority areas for at least one student subgroup is to receive targeted support from its county office of education (COE). In providing this support, COEs sometimes consult with other regional and state partners known as resource leads. The resource leads include various COEs designated to provide statewide guidance related to specific priority areas, such as school climate, special education, community engagement, English learners, student equity, and math for younger students.

Governor’s Proposal

Provides $20.2 Million One Time for Three Computer Science Initiatives. The Governor’s budget for 2020‑21 includes three augmentations intended to increase the capacity of districts to teach computer science. These include the following:

  • $15 million one-time Proposition 98 funding to fund incentive grants for 10,000 teachers who pursue a supplementary authorization in computer science. Districts would apply to CTC for grants of $1,500 per interested teacher to cover tuition, books, and fees associated with obtaining the authorization. In turn, participating districts would be required to provide a one-to-one matching grant.

  • $2.5 million one-time Proposition 98 funding for a computer science resource lead within the statewide system of support. The COE designated as the resource lead would provide statewide guidance on computer science and identify, compile, and share relevant resources.

  • $1.3 million one-time non-Proposition 98 General Fund to develop a California Computer Science Project as part of the CSMP and fund one cohort of participating teachers.


State Unlikely to Issue 10,000 Additional Supplementary Authorizations. Although the computer science authorization was developed four years ago, only 151 teachers in the state have obtained the authorization. The administration indicated that the low levels are likely due to low awareness of the authorization. Our discussions with computer science education experts, however, suggest that other challenges likely also limit demand for computer science authorizations. The computer science strategic plan itself only identifies three universities in the state that offer the required courses in a program specifically tailored to teachers seeking the authorization. Teachers can also meet the authorization requirements by separately enrolling in each of the required courses at a local university or college, but the experts we spoke to found this to be quite rare. Pursing the authorization also can be a substantial time commitment for teachers, as they must balance their coursework with existing work responsibilities. Given the limited number of authorizations and relatively small number of existing programs, we believe the intended target of 10,000 additional authorizations—more than 60 times the amount that has been awarded over the last four years—is overly optimistic.

No Assurance That Proposal Would Result in Greater Access to Computer Science. Under the proposed structure of the incentive grants, the state has no clear assurance that funding would lead to the availability of significantly more computer science courses. Although teachers would receive financial assistance to take the required courses, the proposal does not require that they ultimately obtain the authorization. Moreover, districts are not required to report the number of new computer science courses offered as a result of the proposed funding. The proposal also does not take into consideration whether participant districts already provide substantial access to computer science courses.

Resource Leads Typically Used to Address Broader Education Issues. The state’s existing resource leads focus on broader issues that are critical for districts to improve education outcomes for their students. For example, one resource lead focuses on school climate, one of the state’s eight priority areas. Another resource lead focuses on English learners, a student subgroup that represents one-fifth of the state’s student population and has historically had below-average outcomes on most academic measures. By contrast, computer science is a much narrower issue not specifically tied to the state’s priority areas. In addition, as previously mentioned, computer science is not required for a student to graduate high school or be accepted into a four-year university. Moreover, academic performance in computer science is not measured in the California School Dashboard. For these reasons, we do not think identifying a COE as a resource lead for such a narrow, specific subject area fits well within the existing system of support.

Some Already Credentialed Teachers Could Benefit From Additional Computer Science Training. Computer science education experts we spoke to mentioned that most teachers—even math and business teachers credentialed to teach computer science—may not know enough about computer science to feel comfortable teaching a course. This is because most teacher preparation programs do not integrate computer science into their coursework for these teachers. For many of these teachers, however, more professional development could be sufficient to prepare the teacher to teach computer science. This additional professional development would likely take less time than having other teachers complete a supplementary authorization.

CSMP Trainings Could Help Increase the Number of Teachers Prepared to Teach Computer Science. With the proposed funding, CSMP plans to train 120 teachers over two years in computer science content knowledge and pedagogy, as well as 120 administrators to support computer science teachers and programs. They also plan to provide one-day trainings on the new computer science standards to 400 teachers. These trainings could be particularly beneficial for teachers already credentialed to teach computer science who need some professional development to feel comfortable teaching a computer science course.

2019‑20 EWIG Funding Could Be Duplicative of CSMP. Both the EWIG computer science grant funded in 2019‑20 and the proposed augmentation for the CSMP are intended to support the effective implementation of computer science instruction aligned with the new state standards. Because CDE intends to award the EWIG computer science grant in March 2020, we are not able to determine how those activities would relate to the proposed CSMP. By funding these programs separately through different agencies, the state’s approach could result in duplicative and uncoordinated professional development for implementing computer science standards statewide.


Provide $5 Million for Additional Authorizations, Add Grant Requirements. We recommend the Legislature approve $5 million one time (rather than the $15 million proposed by the Governor) to increase the number of supplementary authorizations—enough to provide grants to 3,300 teachers. Although this amount is only one-third of the funding requested by the administration, it still provides sufficient funding to substantially increase the number of authorizations statewide. This amount is consistent with state funding provided for other teaching authorizations—most notably, for bilingual authorizations funded in 2017‑18. We also recommend requiring participating districts to report on the number of new computer science courses they offer after receiving funding from the incentive grants. To most effectively increase access to computer science, we also recommend the grants be prioritized to rural school districts and districts with high shares of low-income students.

Reject Funding for a New Resource Lead. We recommend rejecting the proposed $2.5 million to fund a new computer science resource lead. Computer science is a narrow, specific subject area compared to the state’s other resource leads. Should the Legislature be interested in funding more resource leads, we recommend it focus on broader issues that are more closely aligned to the state’s priority areas, such as student achievement in math and science.

Wait for Additional Information on EWIG Funding Before Taking Action on CSMP Proposal. We recommend the Legislature withhold action on the proposed CSMP augmentation until it has had an opportunity to review the planned activities funded through EWIG. The CSMP’s planned activities could be duplicative of those funded through EWIG. The CDE anticipates awarding the $5.5 million in EWIG funding provided in the 2019‑20 budget by the end of March. After which, the Legislature could have the department report at budget hearings on the planned uses of EWIG funds. If the Legislature were to provide additional funding for the CSMP, we recommend adding provisional language to ensure its activities complement, but do not duplicate, professional development funded through EWIG.