Two weeks after the Nov. 2 elections that granted President George W. Bush an extended tour of duty, school leaders are still trying to understand what the results will mean for educational technology.

One thing educators now know for sure is that Education Secretary Roderick Paige won’t be back for a second term. Paige officially tendered his resignation Nov. 15, stating, “I did not come to Washington as a career move. I came to help President Bush establish a culture of accountability in American education.”

It was not immediately clear at press time who would become Paige’s successor, though Beltway insiders speculated the job would be offered to Margaret Spellings, Bush’s domestic policy advisor. Spellings was responsible for shaping Bush’s education policy while he was governor of Texas and served on the White House staff during the president’s first term.

Officials from the U.S. Department of Education (ED) did not return an eSchool News reporter’s telephone calls before press time.

Regardless of who’s in charge at ED, educators and school administrators can anticipate “more of the same” when it comes to school technology leadership during the next four years, according to several education policy experts who spoke with eSchool News shortly after the election.

“I don’t see a lot of change. I don’t see more funds being marked specifically for ed tech,” said Ann Flynn, director of educational technology for the National School Boards Association (NSBA). “While I know people care greatly about education, issues like the war in Iraq and terrorism so upstaged education” leading up to these elections.

The election results, which also solidified the Republican Party’s majority in both the Senate and the House, could mean an expansion of the landmark No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB), Bush’s signature education plan. In fact, in the run up to the election, Bush vowed to extend the accountability provisions of NCLB to high schools, promising $200 million to pay for that expansion.

Elsewhere on the funding front, Bush also said he would commit another $200 million to assist struggling readers. He promised to increase funding for math instruction by $269 million. He said he would increase the maximum college Pell grants from $1,000 to $5,500 and would raise first-year loan limits for college students. He also promised to commit $125 million to help community colleges offer credit to high school students.

Though NCLB, as structured in Bush’s first term, requires greater accountability in exchange for federal dollars, its critics–which include local school administrators and state legislators from both political parties–say it’s grossly underfunded. Some say the law’s emphasis on testing and research-based methods also leaves little room for creativity in the classroom.

Although much of the federal focus will remain on using technology to implement various aspects of NCLB, the Bush administration also will be looking to implement a few new ed-tech initiatives announced during the campaign.

These initiatives include creating an eLearning Clearinghouse to promote online courses available to students and adults from both public and private sources; providing $200 million to establish individualized learning plans for high school students; and offering greater access to specialized teachers and Advanced Placement courses through distance learning. (See “Bush floats new eLearning plan,” http://www.eschoolnews.com/news/showstory.cfm?ArticleID=5269.)

“This is going to be good for ed tech,” said John Bailey, deputy policy director for the Bush campaign and former director of ED’s Office of Educational Technology. “The President has made a clear commitment to educational technology in the midst of an incredibly tight budget.”

Details about how these new programs would be implemented were unavailable at press time. But advocates of educational technology say they are genuinely concerned about how the administration intends to pay for these new programs when its existing ed-tech programs are already in jeopardy.

“I think a lot of people would like to see the eLearning Clearinghouse happen, and we hope that there will be ample funding for it,” said Jon Bernstein, vice president of Leslie Harris and Associates, a legislative specialist contracted by groups such as the Consortium for School Networking, the International Society for Technology in Education, and others.

Ed-tech advocates have been lobbying hard against a proposed $91 million reduction to the nation’s primary ed-tech program in the fiscal year 2005 budget (see “Ed-tech advocates protest budget cuts”: http://www.eschoolnews.com/news/showStory.cfm?ArticleID=5264). Bailey points out that the idea to cut the program’s funding came from the House floor and not the Bush administration.

“The President recommended keeping that $90 million in there. That’s not his position,” Bailey said. He noted that the most drastic cuts to school technology funding have come at the state level, and he said he’d like to see ed-tech advocates launch the same lobbying efforts at the state level as well.

Another possible result of Bush’s reelection is that the work educators, students, and ED officials have put into crafting the new National Educational Technology Plan won’t be wasted or undone, said NSBA’s Flynn.

“They spent many, many months crafting the new ed-tech plan, which is just starting to get traction,” Flynn said. “Since there wasn’t an administration change, I would expect this is the document they will work from.”

ED has floated drafts of the new plan among education experts, and it is believed the plan officially will be available in December.

The freeze on eRate funding is another issue ed-tech advocates hope the feds will fix. They’d like Congress to pass a bill exempting the eRate program from complying with the Anti-Deficiency Act, which abruptly caused funds to pay for internet and telephone service to stop flowing to the nation’s schools and libraries Aug. 3 (see “eRate chaos looms for schools”: http://www.eschoolnews.com/news/showstory.cfm?ArticleID=5341). “I hope–through whatever process it takes–I hope we can get back the reliability and dependability of the eRate,” Flynn said. “The unpredictably that happened to our schools this fall was not good.”

Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Michael Powell said he is in favor of working with members of Congress to draft legislation to exempt the eRate from the law. It remains unclear whether the decision to apply the Anti-Deficiency Act to the eRate–out of the blue and in mid-stream–was Powell’s call alone or whether it came from the White House Office of Management and Budget; both offices have evaded the question to date. (eSchool News has filed a Freedom of Information Act request for the relevant public documents, but the FCC’s latest response has been to postpone action.)

It had been rumored that Powell would leave his post to take a position at his alma mater, the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Va., but Powell told reporters Nov. 9 that he is happy where he is, though he added he won’t stay past 2007 when his term ends.

An FCC insider speculated that perhaps Rebecca Klein, former Texas Public Utility commissioner, would replace FCC Commissioner Kathleen Q. Abernathy, whose term expired last June. Democratic commissioner Jonathan Adelstein, whose term has also expired, might have a chance at staying on, reported Communications Daily.

Republicans gained at least four seats in the House (the final tally will not be known until Dec. 4, when the results of Louisiana runoffs are in) and four seats in the Senate, but it’s still unclear what the changes in the House and Senate will mean for committee representation.

“I have never viewed ed tech as a partisan issue. We have had champions on both sides of the aisle,” Bernstein said. “No matter what side of the aisle you’re on, everyone recognizes the value of educational technology.”

Links:

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

National School Boards Association
http://www.nsba.org

Leslie Harris and Associates
http://www.lharris.com

Federal Communications Commission
http://www.fcc.gov