Technology and the internet are changing what educators have to worry about, and the changes go beyond the obvious.

Time was when the alphabet soup of federal agencies meant next to nothing to the average educator. Except for once a decade or so—when issues such as Sputnik, school desegregation, or federal aid to education would explode into the headlines—it used to seem pretty safe for school folk to ignore what the geniuses and assistant geniuses where up to in Washington, D.C.

Ever since it really got rolling some 50 years ago, federal funding has held a degree of interest for educators. But even federal money has traditionally earned only a 6 or 7 percent rating on the educator-interest meter. Reason: Federal funding did—and still does—amount to only about 6 or 7 percent of the total funding for education.

Far more profound on the school funding front: whether your friends and neighbors will approve that tax levy or budget referendum.

So is 6 or 7 percent all that important? Well, as our Front Page story reports, President Bush just proposed his first federal budget, and you can judge for yourself. The Bush budget would knock out about $55 million in the federal support you’ve been getting for school technology.

Those $55 million would round out a bank account nicely. But in a field that spends $8 or $9 billion on technology every year, a federal cut of that size would hardly be apocalyptic (unless, of course, part of those particular federal millions had a role in funding the technology program in your schools).

Even so, Congress is as certain as sunrise to fiddle with that funding level before the budget actually is enacted sometime next fall or winter. In other words, it’s premature to worry too much right now. That’s why Mr. Bush’s budget is likely to leave the sleep of educators in Bmidji, Minn.; Gnawbone, Ind.; and the community where you live largely undisturbed.

But that doesn’t mean you have nothing to worry about from Washington. In fact, the variety of Washington issues to worry about is on the rise these days.

If not money, then meddling is what we need to watch out for.

In just this month’s issue of eSchool News, one story after another cites agencies and offices educators rarely, if ever, had to think about before. When, for instance, was the last time you had to wonder what the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) was up to?

Well, now you do.

You do, that is, if you care how well web sites for kids are complying with the regulations enforcing the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA, page 14). And just in case your schools’ web sites attract visitors under thirteen, guess what: You, too, had better be up to speed on the COPPA rules.

And how about that Federal Communications Commission (FCC)? It’s getting so not a month goes by without an FCC development important to education. So how much time did you spend in grad school studying the role of the FCC in education?

Neither did anyone else.

Yet right now, savvy educators from coast to coast are letting out a sigh of relief. The FCC won’t be taking away your instructional television spectrum, after all, to make room for cell phones, pagers, and other wireless devices (page 19). A spectrum change such as the one being contemplated by the FCC could have cost some school systems millions.

But just as one worry fades away another looms, this time in the form of the Child Internet Protection Act (CIPA). The FCC has just issued the rules schools and libraries must follow when it comes to filtering internet content (page 20). If you want your schools to remain eligible for eRate treats, you must perform your CIPA tricks before next Halloween.

No doubt about it. Technology and the internet have opened a window on the world for education, but they’ve also altered who might climb in. Unfortunately, some people in our federal government react to an open window like a second-story man. They’re gripped with an irresistible urge to grab a ladder.

It’s enough to make an educator want to shutter.

Gregg Downey
Editor and Publisher
gdowney@eschoolnews.com
301-913-0115