The Louisiana Legislature approved a bill from Sen. Sharon Hewitt, R-Slidell, that allows TOPS candidates to choose between two units of foreign language or computer coding to qualify for the scholarship. (Greg LaRose/Louisiana Illuminator)
The Louisiana Legislature signed off on a bill Monday that would allow students to substitute computer coding for a foreign language when being considered for TOPS eligibility.
Senate Bill 191, sponsored by Sen. Sharon Hewitt, R-Slidell, would amend the requirements for eligibility for the Taylor Opportunity Program for Students to allow them to count two credits of computer coding in high school instead of two credits of a foreign language.
The House voted 54-41 to approve the bill after a conference committee removed an amendment by Rep. Beryl Amedee, R-Houma, which had changed the bill from allowing coding as a substitute for a foreign language to allowing those classes to be counted under the science requirement.
The conference report was also sustained by the Senate Monday on a 34-0 vote.
The bill, which was carried on the floor by Rep. Lance Harris, an Alexandria Republican who chairs the House Education Committee, faced opposition from several legislators concerned about preserving the state’s French heritage.
Rep. Mike Huval, R-Breaux Bridge, took to the floor to oppose the bill. Huval began his comments in French.
“I don’t want to see us move the advances that we have made since children were punished for speaking French to the classroom,” Huval said.
Rep. Jeremy LaCombe, D-Livonia, said that he was not opposed to students learning coding, but worried that coding would be cheaper for schools to teach, leading to districts cutting French language programs.
Rep. Tanner Magee, R-Houma, also opposed the bill, arguing that accepting coding for a language requirement did not make sense, pointing to the definition of “language” as describing human communication.
Magee has sponsored legislation to create a French immersion school in his district within the Pointe-au-Chien community.
Rep. Aimee Freeman, D-New Orleans, support the bill. Freeman said that coding is an accessible alternative to language for dyslexic students.
Harris argued that learning coding skills would be more helpful in seeking employment than knowing how to order a drink in another language, which he said is what students are learning under the state’s current emphasis on foreign language.
“This is something incredibly important for our kids in the future, to have a bright future in the jobs market,” Harris said.
Harris argued that if school districts opt to eliminate their French programs after the bill is passed, that could be addressed on the local level.
“If the Acadiana school district decided to take French out, my God, you can un-elect all of the school board members,” Harris said.
After the bill passed, several lawmakers who opposed the bill began banging on their desks and chanting “veto, veto.”
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