The $520 billion omnibus spending bill signed into law by President Clinton on Oct. 21 provides $773 million for school technology and training. This spending bill represents approximately one-third of the $1.7 trillion expected to go into the full federal budget for fiscal 1999.

On Oct. 20, the bill passed in the Senate 65 to 29, shortly after the House voted 333 to 95 to pass the bill. Receiving the measure only hours before the roll call, many lawmakers complained they had too little time to consider the 40-pound, 3,800-page bill and that it contained too many spending provisions.

“There’s a lot of little things tucked away there that I wish weren’t,” President Clinton said upon signing the bill. “But on balance, it honors our values and strengthens our country and looks to the future.”

Passage of the spending bill ended a congressional session that saw the first budget surplus in 30 years. Clinton and a Republican-dominated Congress didn’t see eye to eye on legislative matters throughout the year, but in the end, both the executive and legislative branches were taking credit for pushing through education priorities.

“If you look at our record, you will see that our House Republican Conference has built a long list of accomplishments in education,” said Chairman Bill Goodling, R-Pa., of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce. In October, Goodling launched a year-long investigation aimed, he said, at rooting out duplication and waste in school technology spending.

Clinton’s original request for education technology came in at just under $800 million. Congress cut that to $541 million. The final budget allotment set funding levels for an expanded education technology program at $698 million, plus $75 million for teacher training.

Educators are hailing the bill as a victory for schools. “It’s great,” said Julie Kaminkow, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Department of Education (ED). “Overall, I would say that we were very pleased and encouraged by the budget.”

Expanded education technology

The spending bill includes two major sources of funding for education technology.

The Clinton administration requested additional funding to expand programs to give students access to computers, the internet, and high-quality educational software and to give teachers more training.

The Republican-led House initially sought to deny the president’s request for a funding increase, cutting the total to $43 million below last year.

But the final agreement represents a nearly 20-percent increase over the $584 million allocated to school technology in the fiscal 1998 budget. Most of the school technology funds will be disbursed through ED programs, Kaminkow said.

The only real disappointment, Kaminkow said, is that the budget does not include a $50-million increase for the Technology Literacy Challenge Fund (TLCF), a program created by the Clinton administration in 1993 to help schools buy and use technology.

The budget for that program came in at $425 million, the same as last year. TLCF is a block grant awarded to states, which then set their own competitive funding programs for schools.

Teacher training

The additional $75 million will create a new initiative “to prepare tomorrow’s teacher for technology teaching,” Kaminkow said.

Kaminkow said it wasn’t yet determined which federal agency would oversee the training program, but it would most likely be through either ED’s Office of Educational Research and Improvement or the Office of Post-Secondary Education.

K-12 schools might not be the major direct beneficiary of this grant, which is intended to help schools of education prepare teachers-in-training to use technology, Kaminkow said. “We see schools of education becoming main applicants,” she said, “but it could also be local schools or states.”

U.S. Department of Education

Rep. Bill Goodling

U.S. House of Representatives