Congress has approved an appropriations package for education that will fund educational technology programs at $867 million in 2002, about $5 million less than 2001 levels. This, despite an original agreement in both the House and the Senate to fund ed-tech programs at a full $1 billion this year.

Why the discrepancy? Attempts by eSchool News to reach members of the House-Senate appropriations committee who established the funding levels that Congress ultimately agreed to were unsuccessful at press time, but the nation’s top ed-tech advisor urged educators to look at the larger picture.

“From what I understand, Congress typically authorizes greater amounts of funding than they appropriate,” said John Bailey, director of the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Educational Technology, who added that “this is a very, very tight budget year.”

The new technology block-grant program, which combines the Technology Literacy Challenge Fund and Technology Innovation Challenge Grant programs into single state-administered funds, will receive $700.5 million in 2002, $12 million less than the Senate and $300 million less than the House had authorized.

And although a handful of key technology programs from Title III of the old Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) have been preserved apart from the block-grant program, most have been cut to half their size of a year ago.

Preparing Tomorrow’s Teachers to Use Technology (PT3) was funded at $62.5 million in the appropriations process, down from $125 million in 2001. The Community Technology Centers program will receive $32.5 million this year, down from $65 million, and the Star Schools program will receive $27.5 million, down from $59 million.

“We are very disappointed that the funding levels for some programs were cut in half,” said Jee Hang Lee, senior legislative associate for Leslie Harris & Associates, which represents the Consortium for School Networking and the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) in legal matters.

“Our general opinion of the appropriations [process] is that we are happy the technology block grants were funded at $700 million,” Lee said, though he added, “We were, of course, hoping to get closer to the [$1 billion] authorization level.”

PT3 makes grants to partnerships between school districts and colleges of education to train pre-service teachers how to integrate technology into their teaching before they graduate. In its three years of existence, the program has made 441 grants totaling $275 million.

“The biggest concern with PT3 funding is that it signals a backing off on the commitment to giving teachers what they need. It is a real disappointment,” said Don Knezek, director of the National Center for Preparing Tomorrow’s Teachers to Use Technology, which is overseen by ISTE.

Ideally, Knezek and supporters of PT3 had hoped for at least $100 million for the program. In December, Knezek told eSchool News that “anything below $100 million will seriously cripple moving the program forward.”

“We were excited after the authorization [process] that the program survived, and that is bittersweet now that the funding is about half of what we need to keep the movement fueled,” he said. “We are about $14 million short of being able to fund the projects that were launched in 2000 and 2001.”

That means PT3 administrators are going to have to make some tough choices about how to stretch their funds. Some fear whole projects will be dumped.

“We are still hoping that some of the general appropriations through the Department of Education will be used to make up the difference,” said Knezek. But he acknowledges this solution is highly unlikely.

Lee said he thinks the most likely solution to the funding shortfall will be that all currently funded projects see a slight cut, rather than doing away with certain projects entirely.

Both Knezek and Lee expect a decision on how to deal with the shortfall in the next month or so, after President Bush presents his fiscal year 2003 budget request to Congress.

“This is the first cloud over a really stellar program,” Knezek said. “Clearly the administration’s priority [to provide block grants to states] is a good one, but there is a national crisis in teacher supply and teacher quality that is not isolated to any state and should be dealt with at the federal level.”

Bailey cautioned educators to look at the entire budget as a whole, which provides a record $53 billion for education.

“If you just look at a program and see a cut in funding, you’d think it was grim news for ed tech. But there are so many new technology opportunities for states and schools in this [legislation],” he said.

There are at least 15 other programs in the newly reauthorized ESEA that specifically cite technology as an acceptable use of funds, Bailey said, such as Reading First, Education of Migratory Students, and Mathematics and Science Partnerships. “We can’t just look at the PT3 program as the only indicator of teacher preparation in ed tech,” he said. “For instance, in the Teacher and Principal Training and Recruiting Fund, technology is specifically mentioned.”

What the budget approved by Congress shows is that “we are not just focused on technology for its own sake. We really want to see how it can be used as a tool for these other subject areas,” Bailey said.

“Every education program is an opportunity for technology,” he added. “The fact that technology is included [within non-tech programs] reflects a commitment to supporting technology to achieve a more specific education goal, such as reading or math.”

Links:

U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Educational Technology
http://www.ed.gov/Technology/index.html

U.S. Department of Education’s Budget News
http://www.ed.gov/offices/OUS/budnews.html

International Society for Technology in Education
http://www.iste.org

Leslie Harris and Associates
http://www.lharris.com