Although President Bush’s fiscal year 2003 budget request would increase funding for Title I, reading, and voucher programs, it would fund state block grants for technology at the same $700 million level as FY 2002 and eliminate other school technology programs entirely.

Overall, the new budget proposal—released Feb. 4—would increase education funding to $50.3 billion, up from $49.8 billion in 2002. The one-percent increase would be the smallest since fiscal 1995.

The budget asks for $11.4 billion for Title I grants to local school districts. It also requests $1 billion—a $100 million increase over this year’s funding—for Reading First, which aims to have all students reading by the third grade, and it proposes $75 million for Early Reading First.

The budget also would fund a new voucher program, called Choice Demonstration Fund, at $50 million.

The No Child Left Behind Act, which reauthorized the Elementary and Secondary Education Act and was signed into law Jan. 8, met many of the president’s objectives, but Congress still continued about two dozen programs the president wanted to eliminate because they were narrowly focused or ineffective, according to a White House statement.

“These restrictive, special interest-driven programs could drain away nearly $1 billion from more effective or flexible programs,” the White House said.

Consequently, in the 2003 budget, 35 education programs totaling $1 billion are terminated. Among the terminated programs are Preparing Tomorrow’s Teachers to Use Technology, or PT3 (which received $62.5 million in FY 2002), Community Technology Centers ($32.5 million), Star Schools ($27.5 million), and Tech-Prep Demonstration ($5 million).

The budget identifies Title I and Education Research as programs that also have not met their objectives, but these programs would continue with increased funding. The administration said it hoped these programs would improve as a result of the reforms outlined in the new education law.

“Where government programs are succeeding, their efforts should be reinforced—and the 2003 budget provides resources to do that,” Bush said in a statement. “And when objective measures reveal that government programs are not succeeding, those programs should be reinvented, redirected, or retired.”

By cutting back on “unsuccessful” programs, the government aims to have more funds to pay for the war on terrorism, restoring economic growth, and other key goals.

Bush’s budget places the highest priority on fighting terrorism and the recession. The defense budget would increase by 12 percent, to approximately $369 billion, with a possible $10 billion more if needed. The budget also introduces a number of tax incentives.

Education groups said they were disappointed by the president’s budget.

“This is particularly disappointing considering the central role education plays in healing our economy,” said Bob Chase, president of the National Education Association (NEA). “Our first priority should be fixing and supporting public schools that serve the majority of our children. Let’s not make a bad revenue situation worse when we have yet to fully fund the freshly signed education law.”

Chase added that the president’s $3.7 billion tax giveaway could provide math and reading help to an additional 3.7 million low-income children or fund 20,000 highly qualified teachers to reduce class size for the next five years.

All told, the president’s education budget proposes some $135 million less for technology-specific programs than will be spent in 2002, reflecting the administration’s view that technology should be integrated into other programs rather than funded as separate initiatives.

Some educators think this is the right approach.

“Technology is not running education’s priorities, and the budget reflects that. I think the Bush priorities expressed in the budget are sound,” said Rick Bauer, chief information officer at the Hill School in Pottstown, Pa. “Literacy is a much more important issue, to my mind. I don’t care how many computer screens we have out there—if the students can’t read them when they get old enough to use a computer, what good will they be?”

He added, “Anyone who has ever filled out an eRate application knows that we have to streamline programs and processes. I think we’re heading in the right direction.”

Others were alarmed that programs such as PT3, which makes grants to school districts and colleges of education to train preservice teachers how to integrate technology into their lessons, were eliminated from the budget.

“PT3 grants changed the way professors of education taught potential teachers. I found that first-year teachers from colleges of education with PT3 grants had better skills and a sense of technology integration into the curriculum,” said Sandra Becker, director of technology at Pennsylvania’s Governor Mifflin School District.

“We are disappointed that the resources don’t match the rhetoric,” said Keith Krueger, executive director of the Consortium for School Networking.

John Bailey, director of the Education Department’s Office of Educational Technology, defended the president’s budget.

“Consolidating the programs does not minimize the importance [of technology] and, in some ways, provides more funding. The belief is that by consolidating them into larger programs with a similar purpose, the priorities can be better accomplished,” Bailey said.

For example, the president’s Teacher Quality initiative “provides significant funding—$2.85 billion—to improve teacher quality, including teacher preparation. In fact, the program encourages states to adjust their teacher licensure and certification requirements to include technology literacy for teachers. This will help ensure that every teacher—not just the colleges that receive PT3 funds—is fluent in using technology with their content area,” he said.

The budget requests $25 million for education research, or $5 million less than is authorized in the No Child Left Behind Act, Krueger said. But it does include $10 million to start a new program called the Performance-Based Data Management Initiative, which aims to improve education programs through the smart use of data.

The new education law requires the Education Department to reform how it collects and analyzes data on school performance. The old approach will be replaced by “a new system that uses the latest technology to make performance information readily available to federal, state, and local decision-makers and the public,” according to the report accompanying the president’s budget.

The $10 million would be used to create an electronic system to enable states to submit data to the federal government electronically to have it analyzed for trends that can shape policy and budget decisions at all levels.

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