Back in January, we worked with Senators Shelley Moore Capito, Tim Scott, Amy Klobuchar, and Representatives Barbara Comstock, Tulsi Gabbard, Ruben Gallego, Robin Kelly, Cathy McMorris Rodgers to launch the Diversifying Tech Caucus (DTC). The Caucus was organized to address one of the most pressing issues facing the tech sector today: the alarming lack of diversity in the tech workforce. DTC members have been instrumental in promoting a variety of bipartisan bills that would not only strengthen the tech talent pipeline by providing Americans with better access to STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) education opportunities, but would make it easier for new entrepreneurs and workers to participate in the startup ecosystem.
Here are a few pieces of legislation introduced and sponsored by DTC members (and others) that have our support:
- Diversity in Science Technology and Nurturing Capable Educators Act (DISTANCE) Act
Sponsored by DTC Chair Rep. Robin Kelly (D-IL), this bill would provide scholarships to college students studying in a STEM field who agree to teach in a K-12 school for five years after they graduate. The Department of Education’s most recent teacher shortage report highlights the consistent shortage of math and science teachers, which affects 28,000 students a year in California alone. The DISTANCE Act would incentivize STEM college students to become teachers, improving America’s ability to train the next generation of tech innovators.
- Innovate America Act
Sponsored by DTC Chair Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), the Innovate America Act would, among other things, create 100 new STEM-focused secondary schools, measure graduation rates for students majoring in STEM degrees, increase the number of scholarships for aspiring computer science teachers, and expand undergraduate research opportunities to encourage more students to enter STEM fields. Since computer science is often not designated as a core academic subject, administrators are less likely to hire teachers who are prepared to teach it. Bills like the Innovate America Act help increase the pool of skilled computer science teachers who are crucial to building the STEM pipeline.
- GI Bill STEM Extension Act
Introduced by Rep. David McKinley (R-WV), this bill would authorize nine months of additional Post-9/11 Educational Assistance for a veteran who has used all his or her benefits and who: (1) is enrolled in a postsecondary education program that requires more than the standard number of credit hours for completion in a STEM field; or (2) has earned a postsecondary degree in one of those fields and is enrolled in a teaching certification program. Given that a typical undergraduate engineering program takes around 4.5 years to complete, this bill provides important financial relief for veterans transitioning into STEM jobs.
- America Can Code Act
Introduced by DTC members Reps. Farenthold and Cardenas, the bill would designate “computer programming languages” as “critical foreign languages,” which would provide incentives for state and local schools to teach more computer science classes in K-12 curricula. Creating incentives for schools to boost computer science curricula might seem peculiar, considering the well-known need to train a ever-growing need for skilled programmers, but currently, only one in four schools teaches coding. The bill also establishes a Task Force on Computer Programming and Coding (in the Department of Education) to identify and prioritize challenges of educating and training a workforce equipped to fill jobs in emerging STEM fields.
- Veterans Entrepreneurial Transition Act (VET Act)
Introduced by Sens. Moran and Tester (and co-sponsored by DTC chair Sen. Shelley Moore Capito), this bill would establish a pilot program enabling veterans to use their GI Bill benefits towards starting a new business or purchasing an existing business. We described the context (and our support) for this bill here. The VET Act would make it easier for veterans to participate in the tech startup economy and achieve entrepreneurial goals that don’t require higher education.
Congressional interest in working on legislation that addresses the tech world’s diversity problem remains high, but adding your voice to the conversation about these bills will go a long way towards moving the agenda forward. Bill sponsors are always looking for emails, calls, and letters from the public in support of the provisions in the bill; personal anecdotes are particularly impactful in order to highlight the importance of a bill’s goals. You can find contact information for members of Congress on their respective websites (also linked to their names in this post).
Are you a startup that cares a lot about improving the tech talent pipeline? Do you want to work with Engine to support legislative solutions? Send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.