As budget talks continue on Capitol Hill, advocates of educational technology are praising a spending plan approved by the House Appropriations Committee on June 16, which would restore more than $300 million in funding for the Enhancing Education Through Technology (EETT) block-grant program and provide additional spending for a handful of other initiatives President Bush had asked Congress to cut in 2006.

The proposal, which still must be voted on by the full House, would dole out $118 million more for the U.S. Department of Education (ED) than Congress agreed to pay in 2005 and nearly $700 million more than Bush asked for in his ’06 spending request. Though some Democrats blasted the increases as insufficient, ed-tech advocates said the news is proof that Congress is open to pumping more money into school technology.

The move marked a rare show of independence in the Republican-dominated House, which typically sides with the president in such funding disputes. This time, however, lawmakers rejected several of Bush’s most sought-after proposals, including the creation of a $1.5 billion High School Initiative and intervention program first introduced during his State of the Union address and $1 billion less for Title I funding for disadvantaged schools.

In a joint statement, the Consortium for School Networking (CoSN), the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE), the National Association of State Boards of Education (NASBE), the State Educational Technology Directors Association (SETDA), and the Software and Information Industry Association (SIIA) said the House proposal proves two things: (1) that House lawmakers understand the importance of school technology in relation to the No Child Left Behind Act; and (2) that the committee has the best interests of the nation’s students at heart.

“Clearly, the [House Appropriations Committee] shares our concerns that eliminating this program [EETT] would undermine ongoing efforts to close the achievement gap, to recruit and retain highly qualified teachers, and to improve accountability through data,” the organizations said. “Furthermore, the committee’s action shows that it recognizes that America’s high-technology industry needs graduates with the type of 21st-century skills that EETT builds.”

But some say the spending measure doesn’t go far enough.

“This bill essentially rubber stamps the president’s request for major programs,” wrote Rep. David Obey, D-Wis., in response to the proposal. Obey, who was the only member of the House subcommittee on education appropriations–the group that authored the bill–who opposed the measure, added, “This bill fails to invest what we need in education, providing the smallest dollar increase for education in five years. This is simply inadequate given the massive needs of America’s schools.”

Though the House bill effectively would cut spending for EETT by $196 million compared with 2005 levels, ed-tech advocates say the proposal is a step in the right direction, given how close the program was to being cut entirely (see “Ed-tech funding in jeopardy“) and should make it easier for lawmakers in the Senate to restore full funding to the program. EETT is the largest single source of federal funding for instructional technologies such as computers, software, projectors, interactive whiteboards, training, support, and upkeep.

“We really think the committee is making a big statement,” said Melinda George, executive director of SETDA. “They clearly did not do what the president requested. This should make it much easier for the Senate to restore full funding to the program.”

Although she acknowledged the budget is still a long way from passing, George said the House proposal is proof that advocacy works and encouraged educators and other ed-tech proponents to lobby Congress for increased funding.

“It’s not enough,” said George of the proposal. “But we’re very encouraged that this is indeed a step in the right direction.”

Other programs spared in part, or in full, by the House proposal include the National Writing Project, which would get $20.3 million, the same amount it received in 2005; state grants for promoting Safe and Drug-Free Schools and Communities, which would receive $400 million, only slightly less than what Congress approved for the program last year; Teacher Quality Enhancement grants, which would receive $58 million; and Even Start, the popular early-childhood program, which would get $200 million–just $25 million less what Congress set aside in 2005.

In all, the committee’s proposal would salvage full or partial funding for nearly half of the 48 education-related programs the Bush administration slated for elimination in the coming fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1.

But the additions were not made without sacrifice. While ed-tech advocates have cheered the more generous House proposal as proof that their lobbying efforts are paying off, lawmakers were forced to make some significant cuts to restore money to EETT and other endangered programs.

Among those programs facing reductions in the House are the Math and Science Partnerships grants distributed by ED. The House has set aside just $190 million for the program, which is $12 million more than last year, but $79 million less what President Bush had proposed for ’06. Striving Readers, the two-year-old grant program aimed at teaching reading skills to struggling middle and high school students, also would suffer a setback, getting just $30 million in 2006. Bush had requested $200 million for that program, which was created to advance the goals of his flagship Reading First initiative. The program received $24.8 million in ’05.

The latest House measure also rebuffs Bush on a large percentage of his recently announced Teacher Incentive Fund and Adjunct Teacher Corps. Together, Bush requested $540 million for the two first-year programs. Lawmakers are offering $100 million for the incentive fund and nothing for the Corps.

Funding for students with disabilities also would suffer compared with the president’s request. Spending for the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) would slip from more than $11 billion under the Bush plan to $10.7 billion in the House version– still a slight improvement over the $10.5 billion IDEA received in 2005.

Although it’s still unclear when the full House will vote on the bill, some analysts predict a vote could occur as early as this week.

The situation in the Senate is less certain. But those close to the budget process say early indications are that Senate lawmakers this year favor fiscal restraint over increased spending.

The Senate Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education reportedly was allocated $141.5 billion to write budgets for the Education Department and three other agencies that fall under its jurisdiction–$1 billion less than what lawmakers had to work with in the House, according to budget reports.

“While the [House Appropriations Committee’s] approval of $300 million in funding for EETT represents a solid first step in this appropriations process, our work is not yet done,” ed-tech advocates from CoSN, ISTE, SETDA, NASBE, and SIIA said in their joint statement. “Our organizations and their constituents will continue working to convince all House and Senate members that EETT must be fully funded.

“Absent full funding, we remain deeply concerned about the ability of many states and districts to continue effective educational technology programs and, consequently, to attain NCLB’s goals and meet our economy’s needs.”

Links:

U.S. House of Representatives
http://www.house.gov

House Committee on Appropriations
http://appropriations.house.gov

House Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education
http://appropriations.house.gov/index.cfm?FuseAction=AboutTheCommittee.Subcommittees&SubcommitteeId=11

Software and Information Industry Association
http://www.siia.net

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

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

National Association of State Boards of Education
http://www.nasbe.org

State Technology Directors Association
http://www.setda.org