The federal Enhancing Education Through Technology (EETT) program, which helps put technology into the hands of students in classrooms across the country, is slated for zero funding for the fifth straight year under President Bush’s 2009 budget proposal.

And for the fifth straight year, advocates of educational technology will look to Congress to preserve the program, which this year — thanks to Congress — will receive $267 million in funding.

“Although history shows that President Bush does not support the EETT program despite the strong scientifically based research results demonstrating significant gains in student achievement, it is still shocking that the reality of a slowing economy and America’s lagging results in the international PISA tests have not convinced the president of the importance of…maximizing the potential of technology in our schools,” said Mary Ann Wolf, executive director of the State Educational Technology Directors Association (SETDA), in a statement.

“Data show that EETT makes a big difference, and SETDA respects Congress’s continual understanding and investment in this program. We once again look to Congress to ensure that the tremendous gains from EETT will continue in 2009.”

The White House budget proposal, which was sent to Congress on Feb. 4, asks lawmakers to sign off on nearly $60 billion for education programs altogether next year. That amount equals what is being spent this year, without an increase to keep pace with inflation.

Among Bush’s other proposals for the upcoming budget year is a push for Congress to restore $600 million that lawmakers cut from the Reading First program, which serves low-income children.

The program has received largely favorable reviews from state and local education officials since its inception. But it also has been criticized by federal investigators for conflicts of interest and mismanagement.

Education Secretary Margaret Spellings said there were problems with the program initially but that these have been addressed and the students being served under the initiative are making strides in reading.

The administration also is renewing a push for a $300 million proposal that would allow poor students to transfer to better public schools outside their district or to private schools, if their schools failed to meet benchmarks under the No Child Left Behind Act or had low graduation rates.

Democrats are staunchly opposed to using federal dollars for private school vouchers and have rejected similar administration proposals in the past.

Spellings said it’s unfair to force kids to stay in troubled schools. “When they are broken chronically, we have to do something different,” she said.

Title I grants, the main source of federal funding for poor students, would get $14.3 billion, about a 3 percent increase from this year, under the administration’s proposal. About half of the nation’s schools, and two-thirds of elementary schools, receive Title I funding.

Bush is asking Congress to approve an increase of about $2.6 billion for the Pell Grant program for low-income college students. But he is seeking to eliminate other programs, including the Perkins Act program, which supports career and technical education in high schools.

“We are extremely disappointed with the president’s decision to terminate Perkins funding this year. Not only does [career and technical education] play a critical role in providing the necessary skills and knowledge for students to remain competitive in today’s workforce, but it is an important part of school reform,” said Janet Bray, executive director of the Association for Career and Technical Education.

“These programs are helping to reduce dropout rates through engaging, hands-on coursework that improves student understanding and application of academic knowledge. Funding for the Perkins Act is essential, and it has already proven to be successful and should not be shortchanged.”

In both the 2006 and 2007 fiscal years, the Bush administration proposed to eliminate Perkins, but Congress rejected both of these proposals. In the FY 2008 budget, Bush proposed cutting the program by 50 percent, but Congress recommended a $25 million increase, to $1.3 billion, although President Bush vetoed this proposal.

The final FY 2008 budget included a $20 million cut in Perkins funding, owing to an across-the-board budget cut implemented in the final bill. Neither the Perkins program nor EETT has received a substantial increase in funding since FY 2002.

The administration proposes to spend about $11.3 billion for special-education services for students with disabilities next year, an increase of roughly $330 million.

A program that helps fund merit-pay plans for teachers who boost student test scores would double under the budget proposal, from about $100 million to $200 million. Teachers unions oppose linking paychecks to student scores.

In all, the administration is seeking to eliminate 47 education programs, saving about $3.3 billion. The administration says the programs are too small to have a national impact, aren’t effective for other reasons, or get money from other sources.

They include programs to encourage arts in schools, bring low-income students on trips to Washington, and provide mental health services.

“Obviously, cuts are difficult to make,” Spellings said. “But I think this is a responsible budget that sets priorities and that is aligned with the core mission and the core focus of No Child Left Behind.”

Links:

State Educational Technology Directors Association

U.S. Department of Education

U.S. Department of Education Budget Information