President Clinton wants to spend $700 million on technology programs for schools next year. The president has unveiled his budget for fiscal 1999, and if passed by Congress, it will mark a 32 percent increase over what the federal government currently is spending on school technology.

But “if” is the operative word.

It’s too early to tell what kind of support the president’s school technology budget proposals might receive in Congress, a staff member for the House Education Workforce Committee told eSchool News. The committee’s number one priority in evaluating the budget will be to “ensure that federal money will directly reach the school and district level,” the spokesman added.

Teacher training a priority

According to Vice President Al Gore, who toured southern California in January to promote the president’s technology initiatives, the 1999 budget places “special emphasis” on technology training for teachers.

Gore said the president’s primary objective is to ensure “that all new teachers entering the work force can use technology effectively in the classroom and that there is at least one teacher who can serve as a technology expert in every school to help other teachers.”

To support these goals, the budget earmarks $75 million for a new “Teacher Training in Technology” initiative. The program would include competitive grants to states, education colleges, and school districts. The money would fund summer institutes, faculty training, curriculum reform at education colleges, and “hands-on experience that pairs a pre-service teacher with a local teacher that uses technology effectively.”

The 1999 budget provides $475 million for the Technology Literacy Challenge Fund (TLCF), an increase of $50 million‹or 12 percent‹over this year’s spending, to help more schools buy hardware, train teachers to use technology, and develop and buy software. The $475 million request is the third installment of the Clinton administration’s plan to provide states and school districts with $2 billion over five years.

Continuing to emphasize the theme of teacher training, Education Secretary Richard Riley said the administration will encourage states to focus at least 30 percent of their 1999 allocations to train educators in the use of technology. Riley cited recent gains in the number of computers per student and the number of classrooms with internet access as key reasons more training is needed.

The president’s budget also includes a $106 million request for the Technology Innovation Challenge Grants (TICG) program. This year, about 20 TICG grants will be awarded to consortia that have developed innovative strategies for using advanced technology to improve teaching. The 1999 request would support a second competition for 24 projects focusing on professional development and high-quality course content, while continuing the grants awarded in the previous four years.

Distance learning and community programs

The administration announced two other new programs that would support distance learning and community access to technology. Under the “Learning Anytime, Anywhere” program, the U.S. Department of Education would provide $30 million to fund partnerships among schools, software developers, subject matter specialists, and private employers to expand distance learning opportunities. And a $10 million “Community-Based Technology Centers” program would establish computer learning centers in low-income communities. These centers would provide access to technology for disadvantaged students and adults unable to purchase computers for use at home.

‘Dollars to the classroom’

While Democrats largely hailed the president’s initiatives, the Republican reception was cooler.

“People in educational technology should not take comfort in this budget,” said Jay Diskey, director of communications for the House Education Workforce Committee. Diskey noted that the president’s budget completely omits Title 6 block grants to states‹a $350 million program that doesn’t come with any federal mandates.

“Republicans in both chambers of Congress aren’t likely to let this go without a fight,” he predicted.

Sen. Paul Coverdell, R-Ga., chair of the leadership task force on education, told reporters the GOP’s education plan would give more money to schools, but with fewer federal strings attached.

U.S. Dept. of Education Funding

U.S. Dept. of Education FY 1999 Budget

Senator Coverdell’s home page