Democrat Alec Ross on Wednesday announced the first campaign promise of the 2018 race for governor, proposing that every Maryland school offer computer science and coding courses by 2022.
The technology entrepreneur is the first candidate to formally launch a bid in what's expected to be a crowded Democratic field hoping to take on popular Republican Gov. Larry Hogan.
Ross' first policy proposal is to spend as much as $80 million over the next 10 years to ensure ever K-12 student in the state has access to computer science courses and an opportunity to learn computer code. His campaign said only 40 percent of Maryland schools offer such courses, which teach crucial skills.
The campaign did not say how it planned to pay for the initiative, but noted it's a small figure relative to the $6.4 billion Maryland spends on K-12 education each year.
Ross said that technology firms are primary drivers of wealth in the modern economy, but many people are not equipped to join them, and few parents can teach their children how to write code. He said that women and people of color are very poorly represented in the industry, and Maryland could level the playing field by requiring universal computer science training in every grade.
"Right now, the technology economy does not reflect who we are as a society," Ross said in a statement. "By delivering computer science education to all students starting with elementary school, we will broaden the pipeline of young people of all races, genders and geographies that choose to become computing professionals."
Mandatory computer science training has been adopted by a few other states. In 2015, Arkansas passed a law requiring it for all high school students.
Ross, author of Industries of the Future and a former adviser to Hillary Clinton, is a first-time candidate and is likely to face as many as seven other Democrats seeking the party's nomination for governor. The primary election is in June 2018.