Advocates of educational technology received some good news from the Senate on July 18: The Senate appropriations subcommittee that makes recommendations on education spending approved $272 million for the Enhancing Education Through Technology (EETT) block-grant program, the primary source of federal funding for school technology.

Ed-tech advocates had feared senators might follow the lead of their colleagues in the House, who voted earlier this year to eliminate EETT. President Bush has proposed collapsing the program in his budget proposals for each of the last three years, but the Senate voted to restore the program in 2004 and 2005.

Funding EETT at $272 million in fiscal year 2007 would keep it at level funding, after the program was reduced from $$696 million in 2004, to $498 million in 2005, to $272 million this year.

The program’s fate is by no means secure; the full Senate still must vote on the education spending bill, and then it will go to a conference committee of House and Senate lawmakers, who must hash out the differences between the two chambers.

But ed-tech advocacy groups said the Senate subcommittee’s July 18 vote was an encouraging sign, given the tight budget constraints placed on domestic spending this year.

“I am pleased that the Senate has made educational technology a funding priority in the FY07 … education spending bill,” said G. Thomas Houlihan, executive director of the Council of Chief State School Officers, in a statement. “However, there is still much work to do to ensure that this important program is sustained and receives the resources necessary to continue to close the achievement gap.”

According to the State Educational Technology Directors Association (SETDA), 14 states–Arizona, California, Delaware, Illinois, Louisiana, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, New Hampshire, Oklahoma, Vermont, Washington, and Wisconsin–rely solely on EETT to support technology-related projects in their schools.

What’s more, SETDA says, 40 percent of states use some portion of their EETT funds to promote initiatives designed to boost the quality and effectiveness of reading and mathematics instruction in eligible schools–the key goals of No Child Left Behind.

Many ed-tech advocates have argued for the restoration of EETT funds as a way to ensure the competitiveness of American students in the 21st-century economy–a stated goal of the Bush administration.

Reg Weaver, president of the National Education Association, said his organization “shares the desire of the president and Congress for the United States to remain competitive in the changing global economy, but that simply cannot happen without a strong commitment to 21st-century skills and funding for educational technology.”

Added Anne Bryant, executive director of the National School Boards Association: “[NSBA] has heard dozens of compelling stories from its members about the importance of EETT funds in helping to close the achievement gap. It is essential in this rapidly changing world marketplace that all U.S. students be equipped with the 21st-century skills they need to be competitive. The use of technology in today’s schools is no longer an option, but an essential tool in the delivery of instruction.”

Houlihan’s, Weaver’s, and Bryant’s organizations are among a coalition of nearly 30 education groups and high-tech companies, called the Mission Critical Campaign, that is lobbying Congress to restore EETT funding to at least its 2005 level of $496 million.

The spending bill passed by the Senate subcommittee on July 18 allocates $55.8 billion for total discretionary education spending in 2007–nearly $2 billion less than in 2006, but more than $1 billion more than President Bush had proposed in his 2007 budget.

Altogether, the bill includes more than $530 million for programs intended to promote American competitiveness globally. This includes $195 million for Math and Science Partnerships, $40 million for Advanced Placement Programs, $272 million for EETT, and $26.2 million for Foreign Language Assistance programs. Here are the amounts proposed for some other discretionary grant programs in 2007:

  • Title I: $12.713 billion (level funding), same as the House version.

  • School Improvement Grants: $100 million, only half of what the House has proposed.

  • Reading programs: $1.1 billion for programs that are designed to ensure all children are reading by the end of third grade, and a $35 million program to help teenagers struggling to read. These figures are the same as what the House has proposed.

  • Teacher Quality State Grants: $2.747 billion, $160 million more than the House has proposed but $60 million short of 2006 funding.

  • Rural Education: $168.9 million (level funding), same as the House version.

  • Special Education Grants to States: $10.583 billion, the same as the FY06 level. The House has proposed a $150 million increase over 2006 funding.

  • Pell Grants: $12.607 billion, which supports a maximum grant of $4,050, the same as in 2006. The House has proposed $13 billion and a maximum grant of $4,150.

The Senate bill also restores funding to other education programs eliminated in the president’s budget, including:

  • Perkins Career and Technical Education: $1.296 billion (level funding), same as the House version.

  • GEAR UP: $303.4 million (level funding), same as the House version.

  • National Writing Project: $25.0 million, an increase of $3.5 million over 2006 funding and the House proposal.

Links:

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

Mission Critical Campaign
http://www.missioncriticalcampaign.org