As Congress begins debate on the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), which shapes the federal government’s investment in education, school officials are getting an early glimpse of what might be in store for their technology programs.

Block grants seem like a foregone conclusion, as lawmakers on both sides of the aisle support President George W. Bush’s plan to consolidate funding. Of more concern to educators, however, are proposed accountability measures that would tie federal dollars to proven technology solutions and best practices.

The Senate has introduced a bill that would request $1 billion for educational technology under a subpart of Title II, called “State and Local Programs for Technology in the Classroom.”

Developed by the Health, Education, and Labor Committee as a compromise between Republican and Democratic leaders, the bill would consolidate funding into a single block grant that states would administer to school districts on a competitive basis, as Bush advocates.

Although the money could be spent on a variety of technologies, the Senate bill would attach several stipulations.

For example, states and school districts would have to submit detailed technology plans to be eligible for funding; school districts would have to spend at least 30 percent of their funds on professional development; and districts would have to propose initiatives that have been proven by scientific research to increase student achievement.

Also, school districts would have to evaluate how their instructional technology programs have increased student achievement and submit the results in a yearly progress report. If, after three years, a school district does not show measurable improvements, the district would not receive funding in subsequent years.

In addition, the Senate bill would retain the Preparing Tomorrow’s Teachers to Use Technology (PT3) program as a separate subpart of Title II. Under this program, colleges would be eligible for $150 million to pay for programs that prepare pre-service teachers to integrate technology into their curricula.

Finally, the bill would provide $5 million to fund the Eisenhower Clearinghouse for Mathematics and Science Education, which compiles and disseminates information about math, science, and technology programs. It also would direct Education Secretary Rod Paige to write a long-range National Education Technology Plan within 12 months of the bill becoming law.

Overall, education lobbyists and school technology directors say they are satisfied with the committee’s version of the bill. Many educators say they liked that the Senate bill reflects the need for national leadership on key ed-tech issues, such as professional development.

The need for teacher training is real, said Steve Cameron, educational technology director for St. Louis Public Schools. “If you don’t have pilots, don’t waste money on planes,” he said.

But observers expressed concern about the bill’s accountability measures. Many school leaders pointed out that it’s hard to measure the direct impact of technology on education.

“While numerous studies have correlated student improvement with investments in instructional technology, it is very difficult to tightly connect cause and effect,” said Dick Barkey, executive director of technology at Adams Twelve Five Star Schools in Colorado.

Observers expect a showdown between members of the Senate and the House of Representatives, where legislators there have proposed a bill that more closely follows the president’s plan. —C.B.