Ending months of delays, Congress on Jan. 22 finally approved a budget for fiscal year 2004, which began in October. The measure seals the fate of the Preparing Tomorrow’s Teachers to Use Technology (PT3) program, while ensuring the survival of at least two other major ed-tech initiatives that President Bush had hoped to cut. Bush was expected to sign the bill shortly.

The massive $328 billion spending measure includes funding for the Departments of Education, Agriculture, Commerce, Health and Human Services, Housing and Urban Development, Justice, Labor, State, Transportation, Treasury, and Veterans Affairs. It ends a three-month congressional impasse that Senate Democrats carried through the winter recess in objection to a number of controversial policy addendums, including a provision for private school vouchers in Washington, D.C., new media ownership rules, and a mandate that would require the rapid destruction of firearm sales records, to name a few. But Democrats, leery of bringing the federal government to a standstill, eventually acceded to the provisions, and the measure passed 65 to 28 in an afternoon vote.

Though many educators say they are pleased to finally know exactly how much federal money will be at their disposal in 2004, some groups, including the Consortium for School Networking, contend the final education budget presents a “mixed blessing” for schools, providing sizable increases for larger, formula-based grant programs such as Title I and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), while decreasing or, in some cases, eliminating support entirely for other key technology initiatives.

Perhaps the biggest blow for ed-tech advocates was the exclusion of the popular PT3 program–a $62.5 million effort that promotes partnerships between colleges of education and K-12 schools to help new teachers integrate technology into their instruction. Though PT3 had appeared in neither the House nor the Senate appropriations bills, many ed-tech lobbyists held out hope for the initiative, making efforts to have it reinstated during final negotiations.

In November, Don Knezek, chief executive officer of the International Society for Technology in Education, predicted in an interview with eSchool News that losing PT3 would make it increasingly difficult for schools to recruit high-quality teachers who come to the classroom prepared to integrate technology into the curriculum. Knezek said he wasn’t concerned so much about the loss of the funding itself as he was about the loss of ideals that likely would result from the absence of federal leadership on this topic.

“K-12 education is a system,” he said. “We need to take a systematic approach, and that includes recruiting highly qualified teachers who know how to use technology.”

The Bush administration has long believed that PT3 is unnecessary, because the federal Improving Teacher Quality program–which appears in the new budget–already provides nearly $3 billion to support teacher preparation and professional development initiatives.

Another technology-specific education program to suffer a significant hit this year was the Community Technology Centers program, an initiative to help build computer centers in low-income areas. That initiative, which President Bush cut from his 2004 budget request, will receive $10 million this year–just half of what the Senate recommended for the program, and more than two-thirds less than the $32.3 million it received in 2003.

The Star School program, which supports the development of telecommunications services and audiovisual equipment in underserved schools, fared somewhat better, receiving $20.5 million this year. That figure, which is in line with the Senate’s 2004 budget request, falls $7 million short of what the program had received in 2003. But the House had voted to cut the program entirely.

Not every ed-tech program saw its budget cut in 2004. For the second year in a row, the Educational Technology Block Grant program will receive $695 million. And the Ready to Teach initiative, which works with public broadcasters to provide educational and professional development resources to schools, will receive $14.4 million this year, up from $12 million in 2003. The move represents a small victory for ed-tech advocates, who feared the program was on the chopping block after being cut from both the president’s 2004 budget request and the House spending bill.

Also receiving a boost this year was the 21st Century Community Learning Centers program, an effort to expand or establish community centers that provide after-school educational opportunities for students. The program is slated to receive $1 billion in 2004, far greater than the $600 million figure recommended by President Bush but only slightly more than the $994 million it got in 2003.

Overall, the omnibus appropriations bill provides a $2.9 billion increase for U.S. Department of Education (ED) spending, a figure that Bush says represents the largest single increase for any agency.

But for the most part, those increases are at best indirectly related to school technology.

In all, ED will receive $56 billion in 2004, a good chunk of which will go toward Title I funding for disadvantaged students. This year, Title I is slated to receive the largest dollar amount of any one program, at $12.4 billion–nearly the same as the president’s budget proposal and an increase of $727 million over the previous year’s figure.

IDEA also will enjoy a significant increase in funding. For instance, Special Education Grants this year will spike to $10.1 billion–a $1.2 billion increase compared with last year’s figures.

Congress also backed the president’s ongoing commitment to his Reading First initiative, shelling out $1 billion for the second straight year to ensure that all students learn to read by the third grade. Other notable spending figures include a $1.9 billion increase for Pell Grants to help low-income students afford college, close to $20 million for the Improving Literacy Through School Libraries program, and $392 million to cover the cost of developing annual state assessments of students’ reading and math skills.

With the 2004 budget behind them, ed-tech advocates now will turn their attention to the 2004-05 appropriations process. With only a 1-percent planned increase in non-defense and non-homeland security spending next year, educational technology could face an even tougher road ahead in 2005.

Links:

U.S. Department of Education
http://www.ed.gov

The White House
http://whitehouse.gov

Consortium for School Networking
http://www.cosn.org

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

Bush promises new reading, math, and workforce education programs

From eSchool News staff and wire service reports
January 26, 2004

During his Jan. 20 State of Union Address, President Bush announced plans to introduce a program that would provide more than half a billion dollars in new funding for education and job training programs in secondary and postsecondary schools.

The goal of Bush’s Jobs for the 21st Century initiative is to improve the quality of education in the nation’s high schools and colleges to better prepare students for success in higher education and the new information-age workplace, the White House said.

Primarily, Bush wants to expand access to postsecondary education for low-income students, and he wants to foster a new generation of job training partnerships between community colleges and employers in industries with the most demand for skilled workers.

His plan includes:

  • Community-based Job Training Grants: Building on the successes of his High-Growth Job Training Initiative, a strategic approach that has provided seed money to fund job training partnerships between community colleges and local high-growth industries, Bush proposes $250 million in 2005 to strengthen the role of community colleges in workforce development. These new competitive grants would be used for training in community and technical colleges that are linked with local employers looking for more skilled workers.

  • Enhanced Pell Grants: The Bush administration proposes to establish a $33 million program to enhance Pell Grants to reward low-income students who participate in the State Scholars program by taking a rigorous high school curriculum. This program would provide an additional $1,000 per year to students in the first two years of college who complete the rigorous State Scholars curriculum in high school, enroll in college full time, and are Pell Grant recipients. Next year, approximately 36,000 low-income graduating high school seniors would be eligible to receive an enhanced Pell Grant under this proposal.

“High school graduates are not entering college and the workforce with the skills they need to compete in a changing economy,” the administration said in statement about the initiative. “Research from the Education Department shows that there is a strong link between the courses completed in high school and the completion of a postsecondary degree.”

The president’s latest jobs initiative also includes additional funding for three learning programs designed to spur increases in high school math and reading scores–something the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) has done with mild success in elementary schools, but has been unable to do thus far with the nation’s secondary schools. In fact, recent results from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) demonstrate that, although achievement for fourth- and eighth-graders is on the rise, scores for 12th graders have declined in both reading and mathematics.

To help bolster reading scores in secondary schools, the administration has proposed a new $100 million Striving Readers Initiative that would provide for competitive grants to develop, implement, and evaluate effective reading interventions for middle or high school students who read below grade level.

White House officials designed the program to complement the Reading First State Grants initiative, which provides reading instruction for children in kindergarten through third grade that is grounded in scientifically based reading research. The proposal would provide funds to approximately 50 to 100 school districts for reading intervention programs to help middle and high school students catch up to their peers in reading, officials said in a press release about the plan.

The proposal also would provide additional assistance for high school mathematics instruction. Through his 21st Century Jobs initiative, Bush has proposed a $120 million increase for Mathematics and Science Partnerships grants as authorized under NCLB.

The new three-year competitive grants would support projects that have significant potential to accelerate the mathematics achievement of all secondary students, but especially low-achieving students. The initiative would focus on ensuring that states and school districts implement professional development projects for mathematics teachers that are strongly grounded in research and that help mathematics teachers strengthen their skills, the White House said.

Bush’s plan also looks to open the door for minority students to participate more actively in Advanced Placement (AP) courses.

“While enrollment in AP courses has nearly tripled over the past decade, studies show that minority students participate in AP classes and tests at rates far below those of non-minority students, since many students from low-income families attend schools that do not offer AP classes,” according to a White House press release about the program.

The administration has proposed a $28 million increase for the AP program authorized under NCLB, a hike that would bring spending on it to nearly $52 million a year. The program has two components: Advanced Placement Test Fee and Advanced Placement Incentive grants.

The purpose of both programs is to support state and local efforts to increase access to AP classes and tests for students in low-income schools, as well as other programs with challenging curricular and end-of-course examinations such as the International Baccalaureate program.

With job growth expected to occur in occupations requiring a strong foundation in math and science, many K-12 systems continue to look for highly qualified teachers to strengthen instruction in these core academic subjects.

The administration hopes its new Adjunct Teacher Corps will help address this ongoing human resources dilemma by bringing professionals with subject-matter knowledge and experience into the classroom. Bush has proposed $40 million to provide competitive grants to partnerships between school districts and public or private institutions to create opportunities for professionals to teach middle and high school courses in the core academic subjects, especially in mathematics and science.

Officials say the grants would be used to:

  • Identify, as adjunct teachers, well-qualified individuals outside of the K-12 educational system, including outstanding individuals at the height of their careers in business, government, and institutions of higher learning.

  • Facilitate arrangements for these individuals to function in this capacity, for example, by teaching one or more courses at a school site on a part-time basis, teaching full-time in middle and high schools while on leave from their jobs, or teaching courses that would be available online or through other distance-learning arrangements.

The proposal would provide for approximately 60 to 100 awards for partnerships to create and implement arrangements for using well-qualified individuals as teachers on an adjunct basis, as is done in colleges and universities, officials said.

Finally, Bush has proposed $12 million in funding for the State Scholars program, designed to ensure that students enter college with the skills necessary to succeed in a rigorous postsecondary environment.

According to a recent study by the Manhattan Institute, 70 percent of all students in public high schools graduate, but only 32 percent of students leave high school academically prepared to attend college, officials said.

In August 2002, Bush announced the State Scholars Initiative, modeled on the success of the Texas Scholars program, to encourage high school students to take more rigorous high school courses. Under the State Scholars Initiative, 12 states already have received assistance in developing and promoting strong courses of study, as well as providing special incentives for students enrolled in these programs, White House officials said.

Links:

Jobs for the 21st Century press release http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2004/01/20040121.html