Congressional Democrats, under one new initiative, would use $5,000 cash bonuses to entice teachers to become certified in information technology (IT). Under another initiative, Democrats would double the funding available in two existing school technology programs.

Michael Cannon, a representative for the Senate Republican Policy Committee, told eSchool News that such legislation would run counter to his party’s philosophy of flexible block grants to the states.

Republicans prefer to offer funding in block grants that are flexible and held to accountability standards, Cannon said. “[Block grants] are far less restrictive than Democrat plans. They [Democrats] write a lot of bills that would give states a lot of money.”

But their bills also come with a lot strings attached that dictate exactly how the money should be spent, he said. “Republicans are trying to move away from that policy …We’re on the threshold of changing education and making it a lot less prescriptive.”

Cash bonus for IT certification

Under the Information Technology Act of 2000, teachers would get $5,000 cash bonuses if they become certified in an IT course. Dubbed the “Teacher Technology Bonus,” the cash would reward teachers for increasing their technological skills.

“Teachers need the right tools to prepare our kids for a fast-paced global economy,” said Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D. “My bill rewards hard-working teachers, but leaves local school officials with control over how bonuses will be earned and awarded.”

The IT 2000 Act was introduced by Conrad and cosponsored by several Democratic senators, including Harry Reid, D-Nev.; Blanche Lincoln, D-Ark.; and Carl Levin, D-Mich. Representatives Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., and Earl Pomeroy, D-N.D., are introducing a companion bill in the House.

Republican Cannon said the Democratic plan would take resources away from hiring new teachers. “With five or six of those grants, you’ve taken away the likelihood of hiring a new teacher,” he said.

The bill is supported by many education and technology organizations, including the National Education Association, Consortium for School Networking (CoSN), and International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE).

“We see it as an innovative way to stimulate technology,” said Keith Krueger, CoSN’s executive director. “We need to get average teachers to use these powerful tools in their everyday teaching.”

The bill would set aside $500 million over five years to fund the teacher bonuses. The secretaries of education and labor would develop eligibility guidelines for the program. State school officials would work with professional IT associations, such as ISTE and the Information Technology Training Association, to determine the certification requirements.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, an estimated 3.1 million public school teachers have not had any technology-related professional development.

The bill also would authorize $100 million in the next fiscal year in matching federal grants for partnerships between higher education organizations and private companies to train workers underrepresented in technology professions. This initiative would teach women, veterans, older Americans, dislocated workers, and high school dropouts to work in the IT field.

National Digital Empowerment Act

Another Democratic initiative would increase funding under a pair of existing programs. An amendment to the National Digital Empowerment Act (NDEA), introduced into the Senate Budget Resolution by Sens. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., and Paul Sarbanes, D-Md., would double funding for the Preparing Tomorrow’s Teachers to Use Technology program from $75 million to $150 million. It also would increase the Technology Literacy Challenge Fund from $450 million to $850 million.

Preparing Tomorrow’s Teachers to Use Technology provides grants to consortia of K-12 districts and schools to train pre-service teachers in integrating technology into their classrooms. The Technology Literacy Challenge Fund provides block grants for states to administer in support of various local school technology programs.

Boxer said that NDEA, which was written by Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., is designed to close the digital divide by accomplishing the proposals outlined in the president’s State of the Union address in January. The legislation’s goal is for all children to be computer literate by the eighth grade, regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, income, geography, or disability, she said.

“I see technology as a tool for empowerment,” Boxer said. “No child or community can be left behind.”

The provisions outlined in the bill are numerous and affect teacher training, technology funding, the eRate, technical volunteer recruitment, and the development of community technology centers.

“Chances are, it won’t get passed as one big bill—it will get broken up and added to other legislative vehicles,” said Johanna Ramos-Boyer, a Mikulski representative.

The legislation proposes creating a one-stop shop for technology education, where schools could get all the technology information they need from the U.S. Department of Education. The department would serve as a central location to provide schools with information on all federal technology programs, as well as public and private efforts to bring technology to underserved areas.

In addition to doubling the funding of some programs, the bill would expand the eligibility for eRate discounts to structured after-school programs, Head Start centers, and programs that receive federal job training funds.

The bill would also give AmeriCorps $25 million to create eCorps, a program that will enable 2,000 volunteers to offer technology support to schools, libraries, and communities.

In addition, the bill would authorize $100 million in federal grants to create up to 1,000 community-based technology centers in low-income areas. NDEA also would extend the current enhanced deduction for donations of computer technology through 2004, and it proposes $10 million to implement a pilot program that puts computers in students’ homes.

Several House Democrats, including Reps. Silvestre Reyes, D-Texas, and Eddie Bernice Johnson, D-Texas, have introduced companion legislation.

Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif.

Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md.

U.S. Department of Education

Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D.

Consortium for School Networking

International Society for Technology in Education