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Students at University Prep, a Denver elementary charter school, work on a computer-based assignment .

Marc Piscotty

Computer science grant program seeks to break down barriers for girls, students of color

Computer science education geared toward girls and students of color would get a $250,000 boost under a bill approved by the House Education Committee Tuesday.

House Bill 1277 would award grants to school districts in an effort to increase diversity in the tech industry that is booming in Colorado. Only 50 percent of the grant money could be used for equipment, placing significant emphasis on teaching students to learn to code. Applicants will be given priority for showing how they plan to serve underrepresented students and expose students to examples of diversity.

“This will help to bridge the gender gap and create an inclusive and diverse workforce,” said state Rep. Lisa Cutter, a Littleton Democrat.

But the five Republicans voted against sending the measure to the House Appropriations Committee, its next stop. State Rep. Mark Baisley, a Roxborough Park Republican, called the bill “social engineering and not the role of government.”

Others questioned the small amount of money devoted to the grant program.

“I wish it was $250 million,” said state Rep. Julie McCluskie, a Dillon Democrat. She was among the eight Democrats who voted for the bill.

Advocates for the grant program talked about the need for a more diverse workforce in computer science.

Software engineer Andrew Sannier, of Denver, started a Girls Who Code club at Mullen High School: “I got sick of interviewing people who look just like me.”

Bridget Roman, who works for Adobe, leads a similar club. “There are thousands of jobs out there. We are not preparing our kids to fill those roles.”

“All of you have mentioned gender equity,” said state Rep. Jim Wilson, a Salida Republican. “Is this a gender equity or a computer science issue?”

Wilson questioned the need for a new grant program, noting that many rural schools have modern computer equipment for students.

“In my professional career I’ve seen no evidence to suggest that the field is gender equitable,” Sannier replied. “Just having access to the technology isn’t the same as having access to the knowledge base.”