Clinton calls for more tech funding

President Clinton has announced plans to double funding for after-school programs and training new teachers on how to integrate technology into the classroom. The president also wants to expand tax incentives for private-sector computer donations and sponsorships for schools.

The initiatives mark the highlights of the president’s fiscal year 2001 budget, released in February. All told, the largest education budget in the nation’s history requests some $16.2 billion for programs that could impact school technology, including $903 million for technology-specific programs.

As might be expected, reaction from Republicans in Congress to the president’s budget proposals was mixed.

“Technology is something we’ll be dealing with in the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act later this year,” said Dan Lara, press secretary for the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, which is chaired by Rep. Bill Goodling, R-Pa.

“For some members, it will be a question of funding, and for others it will be a question of whether [decisions about] these programs are best left to local school districts,” Lara said.

Among other initiatives, the proposed budget would provide $150 million to ensure that new teachers entering the workforce are technology-literate and know how to use technology as an effective teaching resource.

“Connecting classrooms and libraries to the internet is crucial, but it’s just a start,” Clinton said. “My budget ensures that all new teachers are trained to teach 21st century skills.”

The $150 million would double the existing budget for the U.S. Department of Education’s Preparing Tomorrow’s Teachers to Use Technology program, which was funded at $75 million in fiscal years 1999 and 2000.

Last year, 225 grants were awarded to consortia of universities, teachers’ colleges, and K-12 schools or districts under the Preparing Tomorrow’s Teachers program, each at more than $200,000 per year. The Department of Education (ED) is accepting applications for this year’s program through March 7.

“If we don’t improve the preparation of teachers now, it’s such a waste,” said Linda Roberts, director of ED’s Office of Educational Technology, in an interview with eSchool News. “It easily undermines the investments we are making.

“These teachers will be working with students who expect to use technology,” Roberts added. “It is imperative that these teachers remain ahead of the curve instead of behind it.”

She said it is especially important to begin training teachers to use technology now, because over the next ten years K-12 schools will need to hire two million new teachers to fill vacancies left by retiring teachers and to accommodate increasing student populations.

Rob Schleck, principal on special assignment from the A. E. Burdick School in Milwaukee, said he noticed new teachers and student teachers working in his school “lacked a real sense of how to use the internet in the classroom.”

His school struggled for two or three years and spent a lot of money to develop effective technology training for its teachers, he said: “It’s a great idea to put ten computers in a classroom, but it’s of no use if they are not being used.”

The president also requested a $547 million increase for ED’s 21st Century Community Learning Centers program, which would double its funding to a whopping $1 billion. With this new support, the program will be able to reach nearly 2.5 million children, ED said.

Now in its third year, the program will award $454 million to schools and communities in 2000, with an average award of $125,000 to support each center. The program distributed $200 million last year and $40 million in 1998. Applications for the latest round of grants are due March 20.

The program is open to rural and inner-city public schools and consortia to help them plan, implement, or expand after-hours, in-school projects that benefit the educational, social, cultural, and recreational needs of the community. Funds can be used to purchase technology, because technology-based learning is among the list of supported after-school activities.

Tax incentives

In addition to increasing funding for teacher training and after-school programs, Clinton has proposed $2 billion in tax incentives over the next ten years for private sector computer donations or sponsorships to schools, public libraries, and community technology centers.

The tax breaks are designed to encourage companies to make charitable contributions to schools, libraries, and technology centers for the purpose of narrowing the “digital divide.”

The current law, which expires in 2000, applies only to computer donations made to schools. The president’s proposal would extend this tax incentive to June 30, 2004 and expand it to include donations made to public libraries and community technology centers in Empowerment Zones, Enterprise Communities, and high-poverty areas.

Up to $20 million a year in tax credits would be set aside for companies that agree to sponsor schools, libraries, and community technology centers located in Empowerment Zones and Enterprise Communities.

The $2 billion in tax incentives also includes money for businesses that offer basic technology training to their employees to help them succeed in the modern workplace.

Schleck said he has had both positive and negative experiences with receiving donated computers.

“It is really nice having machines donated to us, but frequently they were slow machines with old software,” he said. “Often, the machines were obsolete.”

Other highlights

Other highlights of the Clinton administration’s proposed FY 2001 budget include:

• $12.3 billion in School Modernization funds: $11 billion would be set aside in 2001 (and another $11 billion in 2002) for tax credits to eliminate the interest costs on school construction bonds, and $1.3 billion would fund a new School Renovation program. Of that $1.3 billion, $50 million would be given as grants to Native American reservation schools, $125 million would fund grants to other “high-need” districts, and $1.125 billion would subsidize zero-interest federal loans for school construction. This marks the third year that President Clinton has proposed a school modernization package; the initiative has failed to gain passage in the last two years.

• $450 million for the Technology Literacy Challenge Fund program, a $25 million increase over this year’s funding. The program provides block grants for states to administer to local school districts to fund hardware, software, connectivity, and training. The administration sought $450 million last year but had to settle for $425 million.

• $170 million for the Next Generation Technology Innovation program, a new initiative that combines the Technology Innovation Challenge Grants and Star Schools programs. Three competitions for new awards under this program are proposed for 2001: Advanced Technology Applications, the Mississippi Delta Initiative, and Challenging Coursework Online. Advanced Technology Applications will support research and development initiatives that advance state-of-the-art educational technology applications. The Mississippi Delta Initiative will provide training to middle school teachers in the Mississippi Delta region. The Challenging Coursework Online initiative will support the development of high-quality, web-based Advanced Placement, foreign language, and other challenging courses to help ensure that high school students in poor rural and inner-city schools have access to challenging coursework that their own schools can’t always afford to provide. The proposed $170 million in funding is less than the $200 million provided by the Technology Innovation Challenge Grants and Star Schools programs in FY 2000.

• $100 million for the Community Technology Centers program, which funds computer learning centers for students and adults in low-income neighborhoods. For its FY 2000 budget, the administration proposed $65 million but had to settle for half of that total.

• $16 million for the Ready to Learn Digital Television program, which supports the development of educational programming and outreach activities designed to promote literacy and school readiness. The program is funded at $16 million in FY 2000 as well.

• $10 million for the Regional Technology in Education Consortia program, which supports the six regional consortia that help states and districts integrate technology with teaching and learning. The program is also funded at $10 million in FY 2000.

• $5 million for the Telecommunications Program for Professional Development, which would expand the currently funded Telecommunications Demonstration Project for Mathematics program to promote excellent teaching in all core subject areas. The program would fund the use of telecommunications to support sustained professional development and teacher networks that train teachers to help all students achieve state content standards. This year’s Telecommunications Demonstration Project for Mathematics program is funded at $8.5 million.

• $2 million for the Technology Leadership Activities program, which seeks to strengthen evaluation of the effectiveness of technology programs and to bring together public and private entities to help schools effectively use all available technology resources. The $2 million request would fund the program at its current level.

U.S. Department of Education’s FY 2001 Budget site

House Committee on Education and the Workforce

Preparing Tomorrow’s Teachers to Use Technology

21st Century Community Learning Centers

eSchool News Staff

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