Educational technology leaders are applauding the Senate appropriations committee’s July 14 decision to provide $425 million in funding for the Enhancing Education Through Technology (EETT) federal block-grant program next year.

The decision, which still must pass in the full Senate, nevertheless gives ed-tech advocates a reason to cheer. Just a few months ago, it looked as if the program would be cut entirely from next year’s budget. Now, it appears the momentum in Congress has changed.

In February, the Bush administration eliminated EETT as part of its 2006 budget proposal. In June, the House appropriations committee voted to restore $300 million to the program–and now the July 14 Senate action comes even closer to matching the $496 million total the program received in 2005.

“With this action by the Senate [committee] to restore EETT funding, we truly feel that the momentum on funding has shifted strongly to our side,” said Keith Krueger, chief executive officer of the Consortium for School Networking (CoSN), a national nonprofit organization that helps schools integrate technology. “Our … memberships will continue to work to convince Congress that EETT must be fully funded.”

The Senate action is significant, because EETT is the largest single source of federal funding for instructional technologies such as computers, software, projectors, interactive whiteboards, training, support, and upkeep. Given that House appropriators also deemed EETT important enough to preserve, it’s nearly certain the final 2006 budget will include at least some funding for the program.

Other highlights of the Senate committee’s bill include $12.84 billion for Title I programs and $10.69 billion for special-education programs, both increases of $100 million over 2005 levels; $1.18 billion for reading programs, an increase of $5.2 million over 2005 levels; $1.3 billion for vocational and technical education, the same funding as in 2005; and $21 million for the Star Schools program, which funds advanced telecommunications projects for education. As he did with EETT, President Bush had proposed eliminating these latter two initiatives in 2006.

Total education funding included in the Senate bill is $56.7 billion, an increase of $132.2 million over 2005 spending levels and $490.3 million over Bush’s budget request.

Over in the House, appropriators favor doling out $118 million more for the U.S. Department of Education (ED) than Congress agreed to pay in 2005. 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.

In all, the House bill 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.

The House figures are similar to the Senate’s for several major programs, including Title I, special education, and reading. They exceed the Senate’s proposal by some $24 million for Improving Teacher Quality grants ($2.94 billion versus $2.916 billion).

At press time, neither the full House nor the full Senate had taken up their version of the spending bills.

Though she acknowledged the final 2006 education budget is still a long way from passing, Melinda George, executive director of the State Educational Technology Directors Association, said the House and Senate actions are proof that advocacy works. She encouraged educators and other ed-tech proponents to lobby Congress for full EETT funding.

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

See these related links:

Senate Appropriations Committee
http://appropriations.senate.gov

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

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

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