Local educational leaders have expressed enthusiasm for a bill aimed at increasing opportunities for students to study computer science in Ohio schools.

Both houses of the Ohio legislature earlier in December approved House Bill 170, which requires the State Board of Education to establish a model computer-science curriculum for grades K-12 by the end of 2018. The bill also tweaks the state's graduation requirements, allowing students to take a unit of advanced computer science in place of Algebra II.

Gov. John Kasich signed it Dec. 22, and it will go into effect March 23.

Rep. Rick Carfagna (R-Genoa Township), who co-sponsored the bill with Rep. Mike Duffey (R-Worthington), said the legislation addresses a "huge need" in Ohio.

Carfagna cited data from nonprofit group Code.org to illustrate that need. According to the organization's website, the U.S. has just shy of 500,000 open computing jobs, including more than 14,000 in Ohio.

Carfagna said the shortage of American workers with computer-science-related skills leads employers to rely on the H-1B visa program to fill open slots.

"We're importing a workforce from overseas to fill high-paying technology jobs in the United States," he said.

Carfagna, who represents Knox County and part of Delaware County, said the superintendents in his district have been "very receptive" to the bill. The lawmaker said the bill does not require districts to offer computer-science instruction, which he thinks led to more support from administrators.

"The last thing I wanted to do was impose yet another ... unfunded mandate," he said.

Paul Craft, superintendent of the Delaware City School District, said he likes that the legislation expands the possible paths to graduation.

"I think any flexibility is helpful because not every kid is the same," he said.

Craft said he hopes the legislation will "open up more opportunities" for students in Delaware and throughout the state to study computer science.

Olentangy Superintendent Mark Raiff said he agrees districts need to prepare students for the possibility of working in tech-related fields.

"We have to expand our offerings in computer science and get more kids interested in coding and robotics," he said. "There isn't anything these kids (will do) in the future that won't somehow be tied to technology. The demand for technology jobs is ever-increasing."

Raiff, a former math teacher, said he does have some concerns about students taking a computer-science class in place of Algebra II. He said a student's performance in Algebra II can serve as a predictor of his or her aptitude for higher education.

"The type of thinking that's taught in order to be successful in Algebra II is the type of thinking that is required to be successful in college," he said.

Raiff said he would encourage students interested in studying computer science to take Algebra II as well.

Carfagna said students could just as easily swap out an elective for a computer-science class. He said he thinks students interested in pursuing a career in a STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) fields would be likely to take both advanced computer science and Algebra II classes.

"I view it as expanding the menu of options available to students," he said.

Carfagna said a "disclaimer provision" was included in the bill to make parents aware that although high school graduation requirements will change, universities' admissions standards may not.

If a student chooses to take computer science in place of Algebra II, a provision in the legislation requires his or her parent or legal guardian to sign a document "acknowledging that not taking Algebra II may have an adverse effect on college-admission decisions."

Carfagna said he views the legislation as "more of a workforce bill than an education bill."

"I think more and more states are getting out in front of this," he said. "It's becoming the norm for an advanced manufacturing economy."

tgallick@thisweeknews.com

@twgallick