As House Republicans and Democrats trade salvos over the federal budget in an election year, advocates of educational technology are rallying supporters to stave off what could amount to a 13-percent cut in technology-specific education funding in 2005.
Amid heated arguments about the size of the education budget and whether it’s adequate to meet states’ and school systems’ needs, the House Appropriations Committee on July 14 issued its markup of the 2005 Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education spending bill. Though the bill would provide a $2 billion increase in overall education funding from the U.S. government, it would slash the Educational Technology State Grant program–the main source of federal dollars for states to implement school technology projects–by $91 million and would eliminate two other ed-tech programs altogether.
House Republicans are using new figures showing $16.8 billion in unspent education funds to argue that federal education funding has increased so rapidly under the No Child Left Behind Act that states are having trouble spending it all. Democrats counter by saying Republican leaders are using accounting “gimmicks” to mislead the public about education financing….
The state block-grant program would receive $605 million in 2005 under the House proposal, down from $696 million in 2004. The Star Schools program, which received $20.5 million in 2004 to help underserved schools deploy advanced telecommunications services, and the Community Technology Centers (CTC) program, which got $10 million this year to provide federally subsidized computer centers for students in low-income areas, both would be eliminated.
However, the House bill does include $30 million for a new program to help states build better solutions for tracking and managing student data.
CTC and Star Schools have been on the chopping block for the last four years, as the Bush administration has adopted the goal of consolidating federal education programs that are considered “duplicative.” In each year, the Senate has voted to preserve these programs, and they ultimately have survived. But this marks the first time lawmakers in either the House or the Senate have proposed cutting the Ed Tech State Grant program, which serves as the core funding mechanism for school technology initiatives at the local and national level.
Keith Krueger, chief executive officer of the Consortium for School Networking (CoSN), called the proposed $91 million cut “a serious hit on the major educational technology programs created under NCLB [the No Child Left Behind Act].”
Among its other requirements, NCLB requires students to be technologically proficient by the eighth grade. It also has prompted states and school systems to invest huge sums of money in sophisticated data tracking, analysis, and reporting software to ensure that all students are achieving at target levels.
Krueger called the state ed-tech grant program “a major source of funding for many states and districts.” He added, “We’re never going to [meet] the requirements of NCLB if we don’t stop nipping away at [these programs].”
The press contact for the House Appropriations Committee did not return telephone calls from an eSchool News reporter seeking comment.
Overall, the House bill would provide $57.7 billion in funding for U.S. Department of Education programs. Special Education Grants ($11.1 billion) and Title I ($13.4 billion) each would receive a $1 billion increase, and the Math and Science Partnerships program–which aims to increase the number of teachers who are trained in these disciplines–would get a $120-million boost, to $269 million.
The Senate Appropriations Committee has not taken up its version of the education spending bill yet but is expected to do so in September.
Jordan Cross, manager of advocacy for the Council of Chief State School Officers, called the new $30 million data infrastructure program for states “a great foot in the door,” but he said the proposed measure wouldn’t begin to meet the needs of all states. The Hawaii Department of Education alone is about $30 million behind in implementing NCLB, according to an independent analysis.
As for the proposed cuts to the state block-grant program, CoSN’s Krueger said they only serve to emphasize a decline in educational technology leadership at the federal level.
Last year, Congress voted to kill the Preparing Tomorrow’s Teachers to Use Technology (PT3) program, which at its peak provided $150 million to help train pre-service teachers how to integrate technology into their instruction. The Bush administration, which had been pushing the move to eliminate PT3, said the program was unnecessary because the federal government already provides nearly $3 billion to improve teacher quality.
Krueger said cutting the state block-grant program, however, would contradict what the administration has asserted in the past. Over the course of the last several budget cycles, education officials have attempted to downplay cuts to technology-specific programs by playing up their support of the larger block grant, which was supposed to give schools more flexibility in how they chose to spend their technology dollars under the law.
“We think this is the line in the sand,” said Krueger, who encouraged educators and other stakeholders to speak up by attending public meetings, contacting their Congressional representatives, and otherwise making their voices heard.
“The cement is not yet hard,” Krueger said. Ed-tech advocates still have time to convince Congress that these funds are essential to meeting the goals of NCLB.
CoSN is recruiting school stakeholders to sign up for its Ed Tech Action Network, an online advocacy campaign to build support for technology funding in schools. Krueger said the organization also will hold a special lobbying day Sept. 9 in Washington, D.C., to push for more ed-tech funding.