President George W. Bush’s education strategy, which is a centerpiece of his federal intiatives, is expected to shift ed-tech funds from specific programs into block grants distributed to states, assuming his plan is successful. Education officials say this policy carries with it both benefits and potential difficulties.
Skeptics say that block grants are a euphemism for spending reductions. They suggest that highly targeted and popular Clinton administration programs–such as eRate discounts for telecommunications services and grants that prepare new teachers to use technology–will be lumped together with other school technology funding. The end result, they say: the programs will face an annual budget review by Congress, which might be tempted to cut funds across the board if the economy is weak.
Meanwhile, Bush supporters say that freedom from some of the strictures of Clinton-era programs will help schools and districts shift funds to programs that provide the most benefit for their particular needs. They point out that some districts have reached sufficient levels of connectivity and now need to emphasize teacher training, whereas other districts are not as far along in their development. Less federal and state red tape will enable each district to address its needs more rapidly, they say.
A Bush administration official described the president’s views as including:
o A block grant program focused on school technology as a way to highlight his commitment to this area;
o Continued support for eRate, which received $2.25 billion in the last fiscal year, but with a simpler formula; and
o More evaluation of the success of various ed-tech programs.
Bush supporters also note that he backed maintenance of funding levels for technology in Texas schools during his years as governor. He supported a bill (which passed) that has sent about $300 million to public schools and libraries to purchase internet access, prior to the eRate program. He also supported the state’s requirement that teachers demonstrate proficiency with technology as part of their certification.
Bush’s selection of Rod Paige as secretary of education may indicate that he wants a leader of the Education Department who believes in school technology. Using eRate dollars quite aggressively, Paige created a computer network that connects more than 50,000 computers in 300 buildings in his district. He also has close ties with AOL Time Warner and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, two of the nation’s largest providers of ed-tech grants and funding.
Finally, the reporter notes that Bush’s younger brother, Neil, is the chairman and CEO of Ignite! Inc., a web-based education company in Austin, Texas.