Education leaders and members of Congress are bracing for another lengthy fight over key ed-tech programs in the 2003 federal budget.

The first round began July 16, when the Senate subcommittee that oversees education spending voted to fund several programs the Bush administration wants to eliminate—including Preparing Tomorrow’s Teachers to Use Technology (PT3), Community Technology Centers (CTC), and Star Schools. The House has not yet addressed its version of the education budget bill but is expected to cut these programs according to the president’s budget request.

A similar fight occurred last year, when the Bush administration and members of the House favored a strictly block-grant approach to school technology funding, while the Senate opted to keep some specific programs. These programs ultimately were preserved but with reduced funding.

Budget battle

The Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education on July 16 approved $67.5 million for PT3, an increase of $5 million over last year’s funding. PT3 funds partnerships between K-12 school districts and colleges of education to train pre-service teachers how to integrate technology into their instruction.

Advocates say it’s the only federal program that specifically addresses pre-service teacher training, an important topic as schools of education reform their pedagogies to address 21st-century classroom challenges.

The subcommittee also approved $32.5 million for CTC and $27.5 million for Star Schools, the same levels as last year’s funding. CTC funds the creation of community-based technology centers for adults and children to use if they don’t have access to computers or the internet at home. The Star Schools program funds innovative distance-education networks and other examples of advanced telecommunications projects that link students with educational resources.

Tony Wilhelm, vice president of programs at the Benton Foundation, said his organization has been working to promote the importance of PT3, CTC, and a third federal program targeted for the budget ax—the Commerce Department’s Technology Opportunities Program (TOP)—since President Bush released his 2003 budget proposal in February.

“We see [the Senate subcommittee’s actions] as the fruits of those efforts,” Wilhelm said.

The Benton Foundation has released two studies this month showing that a substantial gap still exists in home internet access for poor and minority children when compared with white or more affluent children. Although Commerce Department figures indicate this gap is closing more rapidly than ever before, Wilhelm’s organization is using these figures to argue for the continued investment in programs such as CTC and TOP that are proving to be effective.

Clyde Ensslin, director of communications for the Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration, which oversees TOP, said the Bush administration agrees the federal government “has an important role to play in fostering the use of advanced telecommunication technologies to provide important social benefits.”

But Ensslin said programs such as TOP and CTC are expendable because there are other monies in the president’s budget that already address these priorities, such as ed-tech block grants.

‘Woefully inadequate’ science funding

The Senate subcommittee’s July 16 actions might have pleased Wilhelm and other advocates of educational technology, but they disappointed math and science education groups.

The subcommittee approved only $25 million for the Math and Science Education Partnerships program, a Title II initiative that encourages partnerships between K-12 districts and universities to improve the quality of math and science education. The program is authorized at $450 million in the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), which also requires annual mathematics testing of students in grades three to eight.

The National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) called the $25 million figure “woefully inadequate.”

“This is a definite setback for science and math education,” said Gerald Wheeler, the group’s executive director, in a statement. “If we want to see the science and math education reforms so clearly outlined in [NCLB] actually accomplished, the federal government must step up and help lead the effort to improve K-12 mathematics and science education. The [Senate’s proposed] 2003 funding level is unacceptable.”

Members of the Senate appropriations subcommittee could not be reached for comment before press time.

In other action, the subcommittee approved $700.5 million for Enhancing Education through Technology, the ed-tech block-grant program that gives states money to distribute locally—half by formula and half on a competitive basis. The $700.5 million figure is the same as last year’s funding.

Title I received $11.85 billion—an increase of $1.5 billion—from committee members, while Title II, Improving Teacher Quality, received $3.1 billion, an increase of $250 million.

Links:

Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education
http://www.senate.gov/~appropriations/labor/index.htm

Benton Foundation
http://www.benton.org

U.S. Department of Commerce
http://www.doc.gov

National Science Teachers Association
http://www.nsta.org