Schools will receive an additional $130 million in federal funding for technology in fiscal year 2002, under action taken in both the House and the Senate last week.

What remains unclear is how the money will be distributed.

After Congressional leaders and the Bush administration reached a general budget agreement, the House and Senate Appropriations Committees each approved separate versions of the Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education spending bill.

Both versions would raise the amount of money available for school technology to $1 billion, up from $872 million in fiscal 2001. But, because each bill follows the framework outlined in the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) by its respective chamber, there are significant disparities between the two versions.

The House version, passed by the Appropriations Committee Oct. 12, would increase overall education spending by $7 billion, to $49.2 billion. Total funding for elementary and secondary education programs is pegged at $29.9 billion, nearly $5 billion more than last year’s spending.

Of this figure, $1 billion is directed to a single technology block grant program that would be distributed to school districts by state education departments, and an additional $16 million is provided for the Ready to Learn program, which funds the creation of educational public television programming.

The Senate version, approved by the Appropriations Committee Oct. 11, would increase overall education spending by $6.3 billion, to $48.5 billion.

Of this figure, $1 billion is allocated for technology among five separate programs: $777 million to the core technology block grant program (Technology Literacy Challenge Fund); $125 for the Preparing Tomorrow’s Teachers to Use Technology (PT3) program; $59 million for the Star Schools program; and $39 million for the Ready to Teach and Ready to Learn programs.

A final compromise version of the appropriations bill is not expected until House and Senate leaders can agree on the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. But, because both branches of Congress agree on the basic amount of school technology funding, it’s likely this figure would remain set.

Besides the spending levels for various technology programs, legislators also must agree on how the main block grant will be distributed to schools. The House version of the ESEA reauthorization bill would distribute 60 percent of the funds by formula and the remaining 40 percent by competitive grants. The Senate version would distribute all of the funds through competitive grants.

Educational technology advocacy groups, such as the Software and Information Industry Association and the Consortium for School Networking, favor the competitive approach because they say a formula allocation would spread funds too thinly to be effective. But school officials in comparatively wealthier districts generally favor the formula approach because they say it is a more equitable solution.

Until a compromise can be reached, federal programs for school technology and other education initiatives are being funded by a continuing resolution. The new fiscal year began Oct. 1.

Links:

House Appropriations Committee
http://www.house.gov/appropriations

Senate Appropriations Committee
http://appropriations.senate.gov

Sidebar: Education appropriations figures for fiscal year 2002

Here’s how funding for educational technology and other programs that directly or indirectly support school technology stack up in the House and Senate appropriations bills approved in committee last week:

Program House Senate FY2001
Educational Technology $1.016B $1B $872M
Title I (disadvantaged students) $10.5B $10.2B $8.76B
Teacher Quality/Training $3.175B $3.04B $485M
Class Size Reduction $0 $0 $1.62B
School Construction $0 $925M $1.2B
21st Century Learning Centers $1B $1B $846M
Innovative Ed. Programs (Title I) $385M $410M $385M
Bilingual & Immigrant Education $700M $516M $460M
Special Education (IDEA) $8.53B $8.11B $7.11B
Educational Technology $1.016B $1B $872M
(Source: Software & Information Industry Association)