$12 billion available from feds for school technology in 1999

A new report finds that about $12 billion will be available in federal funds to help schools make technology purchases and train teachers in incorporating computers into their classroom curriculum. Many of the 27 government funding programs identified in the report are untapped gold mines that you should consider tapping . . . before the competition does.

The preliminary report was commissioned as part of an extensive internal examination of federal funding programs for school technology. The investigation was sparked by lawmakers’ concerns over government spending on schools, particularly through programs like the eRate. The full report is expected to take nearly a year to complete, according to Hill staff members, and when all is said and done, schools may find themselves cut out of some programs, although the application process may be easier.

On Sept. 16, The House Committee on Education and the Work Force and the Commerce Committee began holding joint hearings to review federal and private initiatives that provide technology and training to schools. The Committees have also requested an extensive report by the General Accounting Office (GAO).

The report, which will be completed in July of 1999, is being conducted at the behest of legislators who fear that technology funding programs for education have become bloated and “duplicative,” said Denzel McGuire, a spokesperson for the House Committee on Education and the Work Force.

“For too long Washington has believed that the creation of big, new, federal education programs would fix our nation’s ailing public schools,” said the committee’s chairman, Rep. Bill Goodling, R-Pa. “If the federal government were the solution to failing schools, the 760 federal education programs now on the books would have fixed them a long time ago.”

Concerns over the amount of money available to schools for their technology programs—and where those moneys come from—has increased in recent months. Not even the GAO, as it acknowledged in a May 7 report, was able to identify what portion of federal funds was actually being spent on technology.

And in September, STFB reported that Congress narrowly defeated a bill that would have prevented schools and libraries from applying for funds from the Telecommunications Information Infrastructure Assistance Program (TIIAP), arguing that the program was intended to support the same kinds of expenses supported by eRate funds.

$12 billion in 27 programs

A preliminary report commissioned by the joint committees and released on Sept. 15 shows that about $12 billion are available in school technology funds in fiscal year 1998. The report identifies 27 federal programs, including the Department of Education, the National Science Foundation, and the Department of Commerce, that award grants to schools and libraries for telecommunications and information technology.

Of the 27 programs, only four—ED’s Technology Innovation Challenge Grants, Technology Literacy Challenge Fund Grants, Star Schools, and the FCC’s eRate—specifically target technology funding to schools and libraries. Combined, these programs will yield about $2.5 billion in funds to schools and libraries in 1998.

The remaining $9.5 billion is given through 23 programs that do not specifically target technology for schools or libraries but can be used for this purpose.Some of these monies are earmarked specifically for schools but not necessarily technology—such as Title I or Twenty-First Century Community Learning Center grants from ED—and others, such as the Department of Agriculture’s Distance Learning and Telemedicine Grants, target technology initiatives but not specifically schools, although schools are eligible to apply.

There are also grants that do not target schools or libraries and do not target technology, but could be (and have been) used as such. For example, the National Endowment for the Humanities offers Promotion of the Humanities Summer Seminars and Institutions grants to teachers at any grade level for training in humanities-related fields.

Only one percent of this program’s $6 million is spent annually on technology-related training for K-12 teachers, according to one program officer. That’s becuase few schools may know about these programs—or are daunted by a lengthy and complicated application process, like the eRate’s notorious three-phase forms.

A reorganization of the way federal grants are administered could result in an easier, more streamlined application process for schools across the board, said McGuire, in all program areas and for all types of technology funding.

The joint committees want to make sure that funding efforts are being coordinated on a national as well as local level, said McGuire. It’s still too soon to say what the committees will conclude from the GAO report. But the possibilities for restructuring include setting up a separate “office of technology” or consolidating all the funding programs in the Department of Education, according to McGuire.

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