A biased distribution of technology funding has left schools in northern and western Wisconsin out in the cold, critics say. According to school officials, when the board that supervises the Technology Education Achievement, or TEACH, program doled out $6 million in December, it ignored many rural districts that have limited financial resources and need the state aid.

“We believed all along we’d get some of that money and we were counting on it,” said Ken Kasinski, Washburn School District superintendent.

TEACH is a state-funded method of helping schools and libraries acquire computers, internet access, and staff training. The Wisconsin legislature provided $200 million of its two-year state budget for the program.

Democratic Sen. Robert Jauch accused the program’s board of violating the legislature’s wish to have funds distributed throughout the state. “The decision is a huge step backwards and leaves people of the north wondering if, indeed, they are full-fledged citizens of the state of Wisconsin,” he said.

But Mark Bugher, secretary of the Department of Administration, said three of the state’s Cooperative Education Services, or CESA, agencies received no funds because legislators created a competitive-bidding process.

“With all due respect, it’s hard to have it both ways,” Bugher said. “Either the grants are given on the basis of the quality of the application or by geography.”

CESA District 12, representing 18 northern school districts including Kasinski’s, applied for $420,000 and got nothing. Rural school boards in CESA 12 are less able to afford staff training than are some of the larger southeastern districts that received funding, Kasinski said.

They’re also less able to afford well-trained grant writers, which is why critics of the process sees it as biased toward wealthier regions.

Jauch is one of several legislators who helped write the TEACH law. He said the legislation ordered the board, “to the extent possible, ensure that grants are equally distributed on a statewide basis.”

Jauch said he wants to speak with Gov. Tommy Thompson about a special appropriation for the northern and western CESA districts that got nothing.

Superintendent-elect blocks South Carolina computer contract

South Carolina superintendent-elect Inez Tenebaum has halted a $36 million computer contract between the state Department of Education and National Computer Systems (NCS) of Mesa, Ariz. Tenebaum, who takes office Jan. 13, intervened because she is concerned the department can’t afford the five-year deal.

The contract is for software designed to reduce local school districts’ reliance on paperwork. NCS beat out six other companies for the bid that took three years to research and draft.

Tenebaum said she wants to get the state legislature’s approval before committing to such a large project. She sent NCS’s attorney a letter alerting him of her intentions to cancel the contract under terms of the proposal request.

“That gives me time once I get into office to look at the merits of the contract and money situation and gives me the time to make a decision on the issue that we’re going to have to live with a long time,” Tenebaum said.

Outgoing superintendent Barbara Nielsen, who did not seek re-election, said she was disappointed with Tenebaum’s decision. “I guess the schools will have to suffer,” she said.

Nielsen said money is available for the project. About three-quarters of the annual payments would come from the federal government, she said.

“I think she should study it very carefully,” Nielsen said. “It’s an excellent, comprehensive system.”

Mississippi State to study internet searches

Sifting through thousands of irrelevant links when doing a simple internet search soon may be a thing of the past: Researchers at Mississippi State University are studying ways to make information searches on the internet easier. The work is being funded by a $2 million grant from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency-Space and Naval Warfare Systems Center.

“The Defense Department, which has a large training and education component, wants to assure that effective instruction is taking place on the internet,” said Richard D. Koshel of the university’s Center for Educational and Training Technology.

The center is leading the research effort, which also includes a subcontract with the University of Hawaii. The research team will include faculty members in education, physics, and engineering.

Koshel said the job will be monumental.

“The internet is experiencing explosive growth, with the amount of information doubling every 18 months,” he said. “It is our goal to create a system than enables the average internet user to pull together very specific information efficiently.”