Two weeks after saying the United States needs to “make sure our children are prepared for the jobs of the future” in his annual State of the Union address, President Bush again has proposed cutting from the federal budget the Enhancing Education Through Technology (EETT, or “E2T2”) block-grant program, which ed-tech advocates claim is essential to ensuring the global competitiveness of American students.

The president unveiled his $2.9 trillion budget plan for the 2008 fiscal year on Feb. 5. According to his plan, overall discretionary funding for education would remain at $56 billion, the same as in 2007–though critics noted that, after accounting for 2.5-percent inflation, his proposal essentially amounts to a cut in federal education spending.

Bush’s budget would increase Title 1 funding by $1.2 billion and more fairly distribute these funds to high schools. It offers $365 million in new funding to boost math and science education, including $125 million for a program modeled after Reading First, in which K-6 schools could apply for funds to implement research-based programs to improve math instruction.

The president’s budget also would raise the maximum Pell Grant amount from the current $4,050 to $4,600, and it includes $35 million in new funding for the National Security Language Initiative, aimed at helping U.S. citizens learn “high-demand” foreign languages.

Other elements of his plan are more controversial–including $300 million in additional funding to expand private school choice and tutoring options, as well as his proposed spending cuts.

Altogether, Bush proposes cutting 44 education programs totaling $2.2 billion–including the $273 million that E2T2 received in 2007, as well as $35 million for arts education, $35 million for school counseling, and $60 million for enhancing teacher quality. Most of these same programs have been slated for elimination in Bush’s budget plans for the past three years, but Congress each year has voted to spare them.

Still, E2T2–the primary source of federal funding for school technology–has seen its share of funding decline from nearly $700 million in FY 2004 to $496 million in FY 2005 and $273 million last year and this year. Advocates of educational technology say this steady erosion of funds has severely curtailed many states’ and school districts’ ed-tech programs.

“President Bush’s decision to eliminate funding for EETT fails to meet the needs of America’s students,” said Don Knezek, chief executive officer of the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE). “I simply cannot understand how this decision squares with the administration’s stated goal of ensuring that our nation’s students can compete globally and effectively in math and science.”

Knezek added: “The administration’s proposal completely ignores the vital role digital technologies play in those disciplines. Moreover, it turns a blind eye to the importance of exposing all American students to the technology tools and skills they’ll need for future success in school, work, and civic life.”

Keith Krueger, CEO of the Consortium for School Networking (CoSN), had this reaction to the president’s budget:

“Once again the Administration has foolishly proposed eliminating education technology funding under the No Child Left Behind Act. CoSN believes the Enhancing Education Through Technology program is a prerequisite to innovation and individualized instruction – two concepts that can make a real difference for improved learning and 21st Century competitiveness. By proposing to eliminate EETT, the Administration’s FY08 budget erects barriers to advance low-income, minority, and rural students that rely on their schools for the technology and internet access that they lack in their homes. We hope that Congress recognizes the importance of EETT and increases our investment in our children’s future.”

Bush released his 2008 budget on the same day the State Educational Technology Directors Association (SETDA) issued its annual “National Trends Report,” which looks at how states are spending their E2T2 funds.

“EETT has demonstrated results of innovative teaching approaches using proven technologies and effective strategies to improve student achievement–yet the program is [again] slated for elimination in the president’s 2008 proposed budget,” said Mary Ann Wolf, SETDA’s executive director. “Appropriate uses of technology have revolutionized the global marketplace. How can we ignore the same innovative approaches as we seek to modernize education and engage the 21st-century student?”

According to SETDA’s “National Trends Report,” here are examples of E2T2-funded programs that have shown great promise:

  • In Missouri, the eMINTS program provides schools and teachers with ed-tech tools, curriculum, and more than 200 hours of professional development to change how teachers teach and students learn. Within the same schools, the achievement of students in the eMINTS classroom repeatedly has been found to exceed that of students in control classrooms by about 10 percent, according to the report.
  • In West Virginia, students receiving access to online foreign-language courses have performed at least as well as those in face-to-face versions of the classes, providing access to high-quality foreign language classes for students in rural areas.
  • n Michigan, students participating in the state’s Freedom to Learn laptop program at one middle school showed increases in eighth-grade math achievement from 31-percent proficiency in 2004 to 63-percent proficiency in 2005, and science achievement increased from 68-percent proficiency in 2003 to 80-percent proficiency in 2004.
  • In Texas, the Technology Immersion Pilot, implemented in middle schools, demonstrated that discipline referrals went down by more than 50 percent with the corresponding changes in teaching and learning. In one school, sixth-grade standardized math scores increased by 5 percent, seventh-grade math by 42 percent, and eighth-grade math by 24 percent.

Without E2T2, SETDA says, programs like these “might not survive and will certainly not be made available for all students.”

The Bush administrations says E2T2 is unnecessary, because “schools today offer a greater level of technology infrastructure than just a few years ago, and there is no longer a significant need for a state formula grant program targeted specifically on–and limited to–the effective integration of technology into schools and classrooms.”

Districts seeking funds to integrate technology can use money from other federal programs, the administration says, such as Title I and Improving Teacher Quality State Grants. But critics of the administration’s plan say that means school technology initiatives will be competing for already-scarce resources from these other pools of funding.

Looking to persuade Congress to restore EETT funding to at least $496 million, the amount it received in 2005, representatives from ISTE and other groups have launched a new online campaign. Dubbed the Mission Critical Campaign, the initiative–available at www.missioncriticalcampaign.org –is a letter-writing and advocacy effort to promote continued support of EETT and other initiatives supporting the use and integration of technology in schools.

Meanwhile, Bush faces a tall task in trying to persuade a Democratic Congress to adopt the spending measures he has proposed.

“In some places this budget shows vision, and in some places the president’s eyes are shut tight to this country’s fiscal reality. … We should go much further than this budget does to keep kids healthy, to get a handle on health care costs, to increase our economic competitiveness, and to make sure that unpaid taxes are collected to fund America’s priorities,” said Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont.

Other Democrats were even more blunt in their assessment.

“I doubt that Democrats will support this budget, and frankly, I will be surprised if Republicans rally around it either,” said Rep. John Spratt, D-S.C.

Declared Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., chair of the House Committee on Education and Labor: “The cuts in this budget for students with disabilities and for young children are reprehensible and undermine the efforts of students and teachers who are working hard in classrooms across the country. For too long, the president has failed students, teachers, and parents, who are holding up their end of the bargain. It’s too bad the president isn’t holding up his.”

Links:

White House FY 2008 budget site

http://www.whitehouse.gov/infocus/budget/2008/

U.S. Department of Education

http://www.ed.gov

International Society for Technology in Education

http://www.iste.org

Consortium for School Networking

http://www.cosn.org

State Educational Technology Directors Association

http://www.setda.org

SETDA’s 2007 National Trends Report

http://setda.liveelements.net/web/guest/2007NationalTrendsReport

Web site of Sen. Max Baucus

http://baucus.senate.gov/

Web site of Rep. John Spratt

http://www.house.gov/spratt/

Web site of Rep. George Miller

http://www.house.gov/georgemiller/