As state and local education leaders await word from Washington, D.C., on how much money the federal government will spend on education in 2004, a new survey from the State Educational Technology Directors Association (SETDA) paints a troubling picture of school technology funding at the state level.
SETDA’s survey of budget data from 31 states reveals that the average budget for a state education technology office decreased from $13.9 million in 2002 to $10.4 million in 2003, with more cuts expected for 2004. More than half of the responding states say they’ve had to reduce their number of ed-tech office staff members during the last year as well.
This news isn’t good for local school technology leaders, who themselves are being asked to do more than ever before with fewer resources at their disposal. Even worse, federal government spending isn’t likely to make up the gap as Congress struggles to pass a 2004 education budget.
At press time, the omnibus appropriations bill approved by House members Nov. 8 had yet to be approved by the full Senate. Senate members have recessed until Jan. 20, when they are scheduled to resume debate over the bill.
The bill includes level funding ($695.5 million) for the Ed Tech Block Grant program, which is given to states to distribute to local school systems, half by formula and half competitively. But it would provide only $20.5 million for the federal Star Schools program, nearly $7 million less than 2003, and only $10 million for the Community Technology Centers program, or $22 million less than last year’s budget. What’s more, the $62.5 million Preparing Tomorrow’s Teachers to Use Technology (PT3) program does not appear in the bill at all.
“As state funds become scarce or nonexistent, federal programs are critical to help us maintain and move forward in implementing instructional technology in schools,” said Jayne Moore, director of instructional technology and school library media for the Maryland Department of Education.
The budget for Moore’s department has suffered significant cuts this year, she said. Programs and positions have been cut across the board.
Although the state Office of Instructional Technology has not lost any positions, “there are many initiatives that we would like to implement but cannot because of limited funding,” Moore said. “Our office has been mandated by the state legislature to take the lead in providing and or assisting local school systems to provide online courses for students and teachers; however, no funding has been provided for this.”
In addition, the Technology in Maryland Schools Program, which was a five-year program to wire schools and provide them with access to technologies and professional development, has ended–and it appears that no new funding will exist to replace it.
Because Maryland has no significant funding from its state legislature to create systemic change through the use of technology, state education leaders are relying on partnerships formed through Maryland’s share of the federal Ed Tech Block Grant to help with a variety of issues that will benefit the whole state, Moore said.
The federal PT3 program has been “significant” in helping to develop Maryland Teacher Technology Standards for preservice teachers, Moore said, and those standards also are being used for the state’s current teachers. Maryland was fortunate to receive one of the limited PT3 grants for 2003, she added, but “elimination of PT3 and [cuts to] other federal programs will further hurt our ability to make a difference.”
Moore also has identified a disturbing trend in how funds are being used.
“As local school systems are grappling with the data requirements of No Child Left Behind, they are putting available technology funding into data systems, to the detriment of … the integration of technology into instruction,” she said. “Because of costly investments in data systems, instructional technology positions in many local school systems are being eliminated.”
Schools ‘tighten their belts’
Frank South, director of technology and innovative programs for the Nevada Department of Education, echoed Moore’s concerns.
“For budget spending at the state level, there’s more emphasis on data collection than there has been on educational technology, and that’s a direct result of No Child Left Behind,” South said.
Existing jobs and resources are being redefined for data collection purposes instead of educational technology, he said.
“We haven’t been able to establish ourselves as leaders in educational technology, and that concerns me,” South said. “We are becoming second to data collection.”
For the last two fiscal years, Nevada has received zero dollars for educational technology from its state legislature. Usually money flows from the state to its districts, but all funds were frozen for two years, South said.
Last June, however, legislators finally approved $9.6 million to be spent over two years during 2004 and 2005.
“We just lived without it,” South said of state ed-tech funding.
Clark County, comprising Las Vegas, is one of the nation’s fastest growing districts. Voters there have passed several bond issues that provide money to buy technology equipment for new schools. But “for the most part,” South said, “districts just tightened their belts.” That meant reducing maintenance programs, cutting technical support staff, and delaying any new purchases for two or more years.
Districts also sought technology funds from other sources, such as the eRate, the federal Ed Tech Block Grant, and Title I, he said–but these sources alone cannot fulfill most schools’ technology needs.
Deborah Sutton, technology director for the Missouri Department of Education, noted that ed-tech funding from her state’s legislature has quickly declined to nothing. Schools in Missouri have received $15 million per year for educational technology since 1994. In 2002, funding was cut in half to $7.8 million. In 2003, it was zero.
“When it goes down, you just kind of delay things,” Sutton said. “Computer-refresh cycles” get delayed, she said, and projects are not expanded. School technology staff members are laid off or forced to work part-time.
The state’s educational computer network, MORENET, still receives support because its funding is channeled through higher education, Sutton said. But some of the costs associated with MORENET–such as user fees and professional development costs for teachers–are now passed on to local school districts, something that has never happened before.
Budget shortfalls also are calling into question the future of school laptop programs in some forward-looking states–one of which now appears poised to scale back its ambitious plans to equip all sixth-graders with the machines before the program even gets off the ground.
In July, Michigan approved spending $22 million in state funds and $17.3 million in federal funds to give wireless laptops or handheld computers to all sixth-graders across the state, possibly by this winter. But now Gov. Jennifer Granholm says she intends to cancel state funding for the program in light of a $900 million deficit.
Granholm instead will propose a scaled-down version of the program that will use only the $17 million in federal funding, she told the Detroit News in October.
“I’m sure I will recommend that we not use state dollars this year for the laptops,” Granholm told the Detroit newspaper. “We can start to roll out [the program] with federal funding.”
It’s unclear at this point how a scaled-down version of the program would work, or how many of the state’s 130,000 sixth-graders would get the devices. But House Speaker Rick Johnson, R-LeRoy, who first proposed the initiative, said he intends to keep the laptops in the state budget.
“The speaker believes this is an opportunity for kids that we can’t let pass,” Johnson spokesman Matt Resch told the Detroit News. “The conversation is not over yet.”
And in one of the most vivid examples yet of how constricting state budgets have come to bear on school technology, the Texas Education Agency announced a major reorganization that includes the elimination of at least 200 jobs and the liquidation of its entire ed-tech division, eSchool News first reported Sept. 16.
For Texas school systems, the news calls into question the future of millions of dollars in technology-centered programs and services meant to bolster everything from educator training to student achievement. (See “eSN Exclusive: Texas cuts its ed-tech division,” http://www.eschoolnews.com/news/showStory.cfm?ArticleID=4641.)
“The trend revealed in SETDA’s State Budget Survey is troubling, as states are being asked to do more and more with less,” said Melinda George, the group’s executive director. “The state budget cuts undermine the intent of [No Child Left Behind] and states’ abilities to provide educational opportunities and information resources for all students.”
State Educational Technology Directors Association