Education technology funding would decrease by about $55 million, under the Fiscal Year 2002 budget proposal that President George W. Bush sent to Congress April 9. Bush’s proposal consolidates nine education technology programs into a single block grant, funded at $817 million, down from $872 in Fiscal 2001.

The administration budget is not likely to be enacted without significant modification in Congress, but it is nonetheless an important bellwether of the president’s priorities.

The plan would create a single education technology grant program under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 that would be performance-based and would attempt to reduce the number of grant applications required by schools. The funds would continue to be targeted to rural and poorer schools.

Schools could use the money for buying hardware and software (including filtering technologies) or training teachers to integrate technology into the classroom, although schools also would be held accountable for how the funds directly affect student achievement.

The nine programs to be consolidated would include the Technology Literacy Challenge Fund, Technology Innovation Challenge Grants, Regional Technology in Education Consortia, Preparing Tomorrow’s Teachers to Use Technology (PT3), Community-based Technology Centers, Technology Leadership Activities, Star Schools, Ready-to-Learn Television, and Telecommunications Demonstration Project for Mathematics.

Keith Krueger, executive director of the Consortium for School Networking, a leading ed-tech advocacy group, said he was alarmed by the president’s budget proposal for three reasons: it reduces funding from FY 2001, includes PT3 in the consolidation, and would distribute the block grants by formula.

“We think the PT3 part doesn’t make sense,” Krueger said. PT3 “funds preservice [teacher] preparation, and it goes to colleges. It’s unlikely that any money will get spent on preservice technology [training] in this scenario.”

Bush’s budget also talks about changing the eRate program, so schools could use the money for more than just connectivity.

“The administration is seeking administrative improvements in the eRate to ensure that this program provides greater flexibility to schools and libraries in how they use their eRate discounts, while reducing the administrative burden they have faced in applying for educational technology funds,” the budget states.

Krueger said this request would put “additional strain on the program, which is capped at $2.25 billion and is already oversubscribed.” He added, “This is calling for a rule that, when you get to the specifics, [would] create more problems than it [would] solve.”

Jim Hirsch, assistant superintendent of technology for the Plano Independent School District in Texas, also expressed concern.

“This reduction in educational technology spending will have more impact than the $55 million [figure], since federal grants typically have some type of matching source,” Hirsch said. “The actual reduction on educational technology programs will be more in the range of two to four times the ‘visible’ $55 million federal reduction.

“Even though the rhetoric points to assisting our most needy schools, reductions in educational technology may hit hardest there, since [these schools] have fewer alternative funding sources,” Hirsch added. “In addition, funds not allocated to challenge or research grants will diminish one of the few sources of research and development funding that schools have had access to for the purpose of developing and field-testing new concepts and tools.”

Other budget highlights

Overall, the U.S. Education Department would get an additional $4.6 billion—the largest increase of all the cabinets—under Bush’s budget proposal, but only half of that money would go directly to schools.

Education Secretary Rod Paige explained that a large portion of the funding is allocated to solving management problems in the department.

The president’s education plan, No Child Left Behind, asks for high standards, accountability, annual testing of all students in grades 3 to 8 in reading and math, a focus on research-based practices, reduced bureaucracy and greater flexibility for states, and expanded options for parents to make choices for their children’s education.

These requests are reflected throughout Bush’s budget (http://w3.access.gpo.gov/usbudget ).

Funding for the 21st Century Community Learning Centers program—which supports approximately 6,300 after-school programs for children in rural and inner-city schools—would remain at $846 million.

The budget would set aside $472 million for a new program called Choice Innovation State Grants to help schools implement innovative strategies for improving student achievement.

Bush’s plan earmarks $320 million to help states develop and use annual reading and math assessments for all students in grades 3 through 8. These funds aim to measure student, school, and state progress.

To help school districts turn failing schools around, Bush asks for $9.1 billion in Title I grants, an increase of $459 million. Of these funds, $400 million would be dedicated to the lowest-performing schools.

The budget would reserve $900 million for Reading First state grants, whicht aim to help districts start research-based reading programs for students in kindergarten through grade three. Paige said this figure more than triples the amount designated for reading last year.

Bush’s plan would consolidate several existing programs, including the Class Size Reduction and Eisenhower Professional Development programs, into a new state grant—funded at $2.6 billion, $375 million more than in FY 2001—to give states greater flexibility in improving teacher quality.

To give parents more choices, Bush’s plan would allocate $175 million for a new program called Charter Schools Homestead Fund. This fund would provide grants so charter schools could build, lease, purchase, or renovate facilities. Funding for charter schools also would increase by $10 million, to $200 million, to increase the number of charter schools.

The Special Education Grants to States program would increase from $6.3 billion to $7.3 billion. Paige said each child with a disability could receive an extra $1,133 on top of their per-pupil expenditure.

Bush proposes $1.3 billion in Impact Aid funding for school construction, an increase of $137 million over FY 2001 levels. But his budget would entirely erase the School Renovation State Grants program, a new $1.2 billion school construction program created by Congress last year.

In an effort to get more teachers in high-need areas, Bush’s plan would offer new math and science teachers who teach in low-income communities between $5,000 and $17,500 in loan forgiveness. He also would provide $30 million for the Department of Defense’s Troops to Teachers program, which aims to increase the number of high-quality teachers in poor school districts.

Outside the Education Department, Bush’s budget would provide $300 million in loans and $25 million in grants for distance learning through a Department of Agriculture program called Distance Learning and Telemedicine Grants, the same funding level as in FY 2001. Bush also proposes a new program, called Broadband Grants, that would provide $100 million in loans and $2 million in grants to pay for fiber-optic cabling.

Through the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Community Development Block Grant, the president’s budget would provide $80 million in matching grants to support Community Technology Centers in high-poverty areas.

However, Bush proposes only $15.5 million for the Commerce Department’s Technology Opportunities Program (TOP), which aims to close the digital divide by enabling public and nonprofit groups in rural and high-poverty areas to pay for computers and access to the internet.

Rep. Fred Upton, R-Mich., chairman of the House Commerce Subcommittee on Telecommunications, said he is making a strong effort to convince Bush to forgo his plans to cut the budget for TOP. “It’s imperative that we have this type of funding where people need it most, or else these communities will fall behind,” he said.