In a partial victory for the Bush administration, a joint committee of House and Senate leaders agreed Oct. 30 to consolidate several federal technology programs into a single block grant. The money would be distributed by states to individual school districts, half through competitive grants and half based on the current formula for Title I funding.
The agreementwhich also requires schools to use at least 25 percent of these funds for professional developmentwas reached as the committee met to ratify key elements in the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). ESEA outlines how federal dollars will be spent for various education programs.
A number of issues remain on the table. The committee still must decide, for example, on the fate of the Preparing Tomorrow’s Teachers to Use Technology (PT3) program and the Star Schools program.
PT3 provides funding to consortia of school districts and colleges of education to ensure that teachers-in-training learn how to use technology to improve instruction. Star Schools supports the use of advanced telecommunications technology to encourage improved instruction in math, science, foreign languages, literacy skills, and voc-ed.
The Senate favors keeping these measures as separate programs under the newly reauthorized ESEA, while the House favors consolidating them within the core technology block-grant program.
But the action taken by committee members Oct. 30 marks a significant step toward the goals of President Bush’s education plan, “No Child Left Behind,” which called for a streamlining of federal ed-tech programs.
“Today’s agreements pave the way for completion of this process,” said Rep. John Boehner, R-Ohio, committee chair. “They reflect the core principles at the heart of this [education] reform effort: greater accountability for results, flexibility for states and local schools, expanded options for parents, and funding for programs that work.
“The agreements … will make the technology portion of this bill more effective than ever.”
The technology block grant would be formed under Title V, Part B of the newly reauthorized ESEA, called Enhancing Education Through Technology. It calls for the consolidation of the current Technology Literacy Challenge Fund and Technology Innovation Challenge Grant programs into a single pool of money that would be allocated to states based on what each state receives under the Title I formula.
Each state then would distribute the funds to local school districts. Half the money would be distributed through competitive grants, while the other half would be allocated by formula according to each district’s share of Title I funding for disadvantaged students.
The funds would be targeted toward:
- Promoting innovative state and local initiatives that use technology to increase student achievement;
- Increasing access to technology, especially for high-need schools; and
- Improving and expanding teacher professional development in technology.
Recipients would be required to use at least 25 percent of the funds to provide “ongoing, sustained, … high-quality professional development” in the use of technology to improve instruction. Recipients that can demonstrate they already provide sustained professional development to the satisfaction of state officials might be exempt from this provision.
Funds also may be used to comply with the Children’s Internet Protection Act, which requires schools receiving federal funds for technology to adopt internet safety policies and block students’ access to inappropriate materials online.
The 50-50 split between competitive and formula grants is a compromise between House and Senate positions. The House had approved a mix that was 60 percent by formula and 40 percent competitive; in the Senate version, all grants would have been distributed competitively.
Although ed-tech advocacy groups also had favored a strictly competitive approach in distributing the grants, most said they were encouraged by the committee’s actions so far.
“We’re pleased the committee targeted funds to Title I districts and … that they concentrated on professional development at the local level,” said Jeehang Lee, senior legal associate for Leslie Harris and Associates, which represents the Consortium for School Networking (CoSN) and the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) in legislative matters.
Still, he said, schools should not expect much in the way of formula grants for technology.
Lee estimates the average formula grant under this approach would be about $5,000 to $7,000 per districtand many districts would get $1,000 or less. “There’s not much you can do with that amount,” he said.
Total ed-tech funding from the U.S. Department of Education figures to be $1 billion in fiscal year 2002, an increase of $130 million over current levels.
The committee will meet once more to reach a consensus on the remaining issues. Besides the fate of the PT3 and Star Schools programs, ed-tech advocates will be closely watching what happens with “transferability,” a term for a Bush administration initiative that would allow districts that meet certain accountability standards to transfer up to 50 percent of their federal funding from certain programsincluding technologyto other uses.
Many school leaders appreciate the flexibility this approach would allow, but ed-tech advocacy groups such as CoSN and ISTE fear this initiative would undermine the priorities set by the federal government. It would mean federal funds intended for technology could be diverted to other programs.
“We hope to try and finish up the [ESEA reauthorization] bill in the next couple weeks. We want to have it done before Thanksgiving,” said Jim Manley, a spokesman for Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass.
eSchool News Associate Editor Elizabeth Guerard also contributed to this report.
Rep. John Boehner, R-Ohio
Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass.
Leslie Harris and Associates