HP grants aim to redesign college engineering

Aiming to reinvent undergraduate computer science and engineering programs through the use of technology, Hewlett-Packard Co. (HP) is accepting proposals from colleges and universities for a new grant program called "HP Innovations in Education"–and more than $2.4 million in cash and equipment is available.

The company seeks proposals from two- or four-year colleges and universities that offer courses that lead to degrees in engineering, computer science, or information technology. Grant projects must explore the innovations that are possible where teaching, learning, and technology intersect within one of these three disciplines–with the ultimate goal of "re-imagining undergraduate engineering education," HP says.

"With a global economy that interconnects every country around the world, the demand for highly qualified high-tech professionals increases. Attracting students into and graduating students from high-quality, high-tech degree programs is a growing challenge," the company explains. 

"Evidence is emerging that the effective use of technology, combined with exemplary teaching, can positively [affect] student academic outcomes. … The HP Innovations in Education grant recipients will become a global network of educators around the world who are designing the future of undergraduate high-tech education."

HP plans to award about 10 grants to public or qualified private colleges or universities in the United States. Each grant is valued at more than $240,000 in HP technology, cash, and professional development.

Proposals should describe how technology will be used to enable innovations in four key areas:

1. Leadership Capacity–creating a global network of administrators and key faculty who implement innovative approaches to curriculum, instruction, and the use of technology to enhance undergraduate learning and research.
2. Digital Learning Environments–using technology to fundamentally redesign the learning experience in ways that lead to increased student engagement and academic success; this can include innovations in online learning, virtual worlds, gaming for learning, and simulations, for example.

3. The Undergraduate Design and Research Experience–making engineering real and relevant by involving engineering undergraduate students in design and research challenges that address real needs in society; this can include local- and/or global-service learning.

4. Pre-College Outreach–engaging administrators, faculty, and undergraduate students to work with secondary-school teachers and students, increasing students’ awareness and interest in high-tech degree programs and careers.

The new "Innovations in Education" initiative builds on five years of experience with HP’s Technology for Teaching grant program, which has supported projects at more than 280 campuses in 41 countries, HP said.

Each award will support a campus team of eight faculty members and administrators who will pilot various uses of technology to enhance the targeted degree programs and courses.

Team members each will receive an HP Tablet PC with extended-life battery, a wide-screen monitor, DVD drive dock, keyboard, and mouse, and a digital projector. The grant also supports a digital classroom with 30 Tablet PCs and a storage cart, DyKnow classroom interactivity software, an HP Design Lab with remote accessibility, remote graphics software, a virtual training room, and $20,000 in cash.

Priority will be given to institutions that serve significant numbers of underrepresented, low-income, or otherwise marginalized student populations (such as women pursuing computer science). Priority also will be given to schools that engage with partner organizations, use matching funds to support their proposals, and offer project-based learning approaches that address real societal issues.

Proposals are due March 30. More information, including the full Request for Proposals, is available at www.hp.com/go/hpiie-usa.


Inauguration is inspiring classrooms nationwide

The inauguration of America’s first African-American president has captured the imagination of students and educators with an intensity that surpasses previous ceremonies, and schools from New Hampshire to Florida to California are working to bring the excitement and pageantry, the sheer history of it all, to life in the classroom, reports the New York Times. After millions of students watch Barack Obama take the presidential oath on television, some will recite poetry, many will hear brass bands play patriotic music, and not a few will debate whether Obama’s oratory equaled the eloquence of John F. Kennedy. "We are totally committed to reading, writing, science, and history," said Linda Lane, deputy superintendent of instruction in Pittsburgh. "But we also know that some history doesn’t come out of a book. Some history you get to be part of." Karen Rusche, principal of Our Lady of Lourdes, a Catholic school in Cincinnati, decided that the inaugural was of such historic import that her eighth graders would interrupt a spiritual retreat to watch it on TV. "We don’t want to see it on a rerun," Rusche said. "We want to be witnesses to the historical moment." Educators in Chicago, Obama’s hometown, might be among the most enthusiastic. Like many school districts nationwide, Chicago produced a lengthy guide to help teachers tailor instruction to the inauguration, with suggestions for essay themes, debate topics, and letter writing. Arne Duncan, the Chicago schools chief whom Obama has nominated to be secretary of education, sent a memorandum introducing the guide to the city’s teachers. "Barack Obama has captivated Chicago students’ interest in democracy," he said. "As educators, we cannot let this teaching opportunity pass us by."

Click here for the full story


Ruling backs school in internet free-speech case

A federal judge has ruled that Burlington, Conn., school officials acted within their rights to discipline a student for an internet posting she wrote off school grounds, reports the Boston Globe. U.S. District Court Judge Mark Kravitz rejected Avery Doninger’s claim that administrators at Lewis B. Mills High School violated her rights of free speech and equal protection. She also alleged they inflicted emotional distress when they barred her from serving as class secretary because of the 2007 posting, which criticized the administrators for canceling a popular school activity. Kravitz’s ruling relied partly on the ambiguity over whether schools can regulate students’ expression on the internet. He noted in his ruling that times have changed since 1979, when a landmark student speech case set boundaries for schools regulating off-campus speech. Now, he wrote, students can send eMails to hundreds of classmates at a time or post entries that can be read instantly by students, teachers, and administrators. "Off-campus speech can become on-campus speech with the click of a mouse," Kravitz wrote. Kravitz cited previous rulings in his decision that school administrators were entitled to qualified immunity. That shields public officials from lawsuits for damages unless they violate clearly established rights that a reasonable official would have known. The officials could not reasonably be expected "to predict where the line between on- and off-campus speech will be drawn in this new digital era," he wrote. Doninger’s attorney, Jon Schoenhorn, plans to appeal the ruling and said the case may ultimately have to be decided by the U.S. Supreme Court…

Click here for the full story


NYC education department set to give kids and parents eMail addresses

New York City public school kids and their parents soon could be getting their own free eMail accounts from the city’s education department, reports the New York Daily News. The city hopes the eMail accounts, which could be available this fall, will make it easier for principals and teachers to keep in contact with families. "This is simply another parent engagement tool," said spokeswoman Maibe Gonzalez Fuentes. "It’s about building school communities." Creating a citywide system also will help level the playing field, because some schools are already providing school-based eMail accounts on their own, she added. The city expects to get the accounts at no cost. In return, the provider can blast the city’s 800,000-plus public school parents with advertising. Parents can block the ads, and all student accounts will be ad-free, Gonzalez Fuentes said. The system, though, won’t solve the broader issue of whether families have access to the internet. If schools are increasingly relying on eMail, it could leave some parents out, said Cornelia Brunner, of the Center for Children and Technology in New York. "You don’t want to increase the gap between the information haves and have-nots," she said…

Click here for the full story


Schools save cash as IT goes green

Low-voltage servers are powering universities’ supercomputers. Students can no longer print pages by the ream. Computers are being recycled.

And the glow of screensaver fish tanks is disappearing from many college campuses as new energy-efficient programs put computers on standby, saving superfluous wattage that can cost schools thousands every year.

Green IT could very well help save the planet, but higher education has seen eco-friendliness save hundreds of thousands of dollars, too–and sometimes even millions–all while operating budgets continue to tighten. 

"Green [IT] has officially caught on," said Thomas Furlani, director of the University of Buffalo’s Center for Computational Research, which will install energy-thrifty supercomputer servers this spring and save $150,000 annually. "It just makes too much sense not to do it anymore."

The low-voltage servers, Furlani said, will save enough electricity to power 110 homes for one year.

"That makes a pretty compelling case," he said.

Higher-education officials expect electricity rates to continue their steady rise, and IT chiefs nationwide are prepping to pitch green IT ideas to the administrators who control their campus’s purse strings.

Proving that energy-efficient–though often expensive–IT initiatives will save the campus cash over time is crucial in creating a low-energy IT department on a slim budget, technology officials said.

"If I can show a reasonable [return on investment], I don’t expect it to be difficult to sell during budget talks," said Dan Tonelli, director of IT support services at Babson College in Massachusetts, where campus officials project $30,000 in energy savings thanks to a new program that allows computers to hibernate when they’re not being used.

Tech officials at some schools, such as the College of New Jersey, are evangelizing about the merits of power-saving environmental consciousness. The college’s quarterly "Tech Talk" online newsletter offers students and faculty a laundry list of ways they can save the school money and reduce electricity consumption with everyday computer use.

Among the green tips in last fall’s newsletter: Shutting off computers and surge protectors at the end of the workday, which saves $70 per computer, per year; eMailing scanned copies instead of making paper copies; and printing double-sided pages.

When advice fails, hard-and-fast rules work. College of New Jersey students are limited to 600 printed pages every semester. The campus charges 5 cents for every page printed over the limit.

"We want to encourage people to do things that will make a big difference," said Nadine Stern, the college’s vice president for information technology and enrollment. "I certainly hope we’re making people more conscious."

Proof of a greener campus

If there were any remaining doubts about the ubiquity of green IT initiatives in higher education, recent surveys and studies have put them to rest. Two-thirds of campus officials at 780 colleges and universities last year said they have instituted energy and cost-saving technology policies or are planning to implement green strategies.

The survey–conducted by the Association for Information Communications Technology Professionals in Higher Education (ACUTA)–showed that institutions of varying sizes and budgets are recycling computer and network equipment, shutting down computers that aren’t being used, tapping alternative sources to provide electricity to computer labs, and expanding telecommuting courses and flexible work schedules.

ACUTA’s survey also revealed budget limitations faced by college officials pushing for green IT. Seventy-two percent of the schools that have not yet implemented green policies said stagnant or plummeting budgets have put energy-efficient plans out of reach.

Thirty-two percent of respondents from non-green campuses said expensive energy-thrifty equipment has proven to be a tough sell during annual budget talks. They said proving long-term cost savings to decision makers remains an obstacle.

Green efforts, large and small

Even the seemingly smallest adjustments to computer energy use can reduce pollution and save campuses hundreds of thousands of dollars every year. At the University of Hawaii’s Monoa campus, IT decision makers targeted screen savers to trim computer labs’ pricey energy consumption.

The university’s new liquid crystal display (LCD) flat-screen computers switch into a low-power standby mode when no one is using them, meaning screen savers don’t remain on the screen and force the computer’s central processor to run unnecessarily. On a typical 17-inch screen, that means a screen saver requires 94 watts of electricity every hour. On standby mode, the computer uses seven watts–a savings of 87 watts per hour, according to a university analysis.

The standby option would save the University of Hawaii $17.64 per year for every one of the campus’s 9,000 computers–a savings of more than $158,000 annually. Hawaii’s IT department launched a web site recently that gives students and faculty instructions on how to power down their screen savers during off-hours.

The University of Miami’s nearly 60,000 computers switch automatically to standby mode if they are inactive for 30 minutes. If a PC hasn’t been used for three hours, it shuts off entirely, saving power.

"It gets everybody into the habit of paying attention to what is environmentally friendly," said Mimi Pambrun, Miami’s director of marketing. "And we encourage other schools to [implement green IT policies]. We want them to be part of the green team."

University officials are finding ways to save costly energy even with the IT department’s largest purchases. One of higher education’s most energy-intensive purchases–the power-hungry supercomputer–has been roped into the greening of campus computers. This spring, the University of Buffalo’s supercomputer will be upgraded with the installation of energy-efficient servers that will "dramatically reduce … power and cooling requirements," said Furlani of Buffalo’s IT department.

And the campus won’t sacrifice computer performance for energy savings. Furlani said replacing one-fourth of the supercomputer’s servers will boost capacity and performance by about 50 percent.

Buffalo was able to green its supercomputer servers with a $300,000 contract from the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority and a $150,000 contribution from the school. With the servers’ energy savings, the university is expected to recoup its investment by early 2010, officials said.

Higher-education officials said several technology giants have marketed low-energy servers in recent years, including Hewlett-Packard, Dell, and IBM. Officials credited Intel with manufacturing microchips that serve as the centerpiece for eco-friendly servers.

The University of Maine unveiled the state’s first green supercomputer last October, drawing stark comparisons to mega-computers that are known to run up steep electricity bills and drain IT budgets.

The high-speed supercomputer, known as the SiCortex SC072 Personal Development System, has 72 processors that typically require 100 watts of power each. Maine’s SiCortex machine uses about 300 watts altogether–a savings of 6,900 watts over other supercomputers.

"It’s easy to overlook the fact that for every watt of electricity used to run these large computers, up to another watt is required to cool the system," said George Markowsky, acting chairman of the University of Maine’s Computer Science Department.

The school’s IT department wowed students and faculty last fall when a group of university bicyclists produced enough electricity to run the SiCortex computer using stationary bikes. 

"The fact that a team of bicyclists could power the system underscores the energy efficiency of the UMaine supercomputer," said James Bailey, marketing director of SiCortex.

Keeping hot servers cool

Network servers run hot–so hot, in fact, that campus IT departments set aside tens of thousands to pay for air conditioning that blasts the equipment with frigid air and keeps them running. The problem is pronounced on campuses with warm climates, where 100-degree days mean air conditioning runs full-blast all day.

Wendell C. Brase, vice chancellor for administrative and business services at the University of California Irvine, hosted a seminar on green alternatives to keeping servers cool without running a utility deficit.

Hot summer days in California, Brase said, can put the university’s air-conditioning costs through the roof. A solution, he said, is thermal storage. At night, when temperatures drop, air conditioning units create and store cool air using far less energy than they would during the daytime. When students and professors come to class the next day, the air conditioners turn on and pump the air stored the night before.

Brase said thermal storage would be key in cutting energy costs at the country’s hottest campuses in California, Arizona, and other states with mild to warm winters. But he said every large research university should consider converting to thermal storage.

Cooling computer servers also is an enormous cost for every large university, Brase said. Researchers and IT managers are discovering new ways to cool down the servers without setting the air conditioning to its lowest temperatures. Brase said servers work efficiently at 90 degrees, several degrees higher than most IT officials had believed.

Building a roof over the server area in a lab building, Brase said, would block off the rest of the room and limit the square footage that needed to be cooled. Universities also can pump outside air into the server room, avoiding air conditioning altogether.

IT recycling … and the battle against utilities

Some of the largest U.S. campuses have incorporated IT equipment in university-wide recycling efforts.

The University of Miami is one of many private campuses that are joining publicly funded colleges in offsetting tough economic times with energy-saving IT programs.

Last year, the University of Miami’s Green U initiative recycled 1,155 computer parts such as keyboards and computer screens. Miami also recycled 3,941 pounds of batteries and more than 17,000 pounds of lamps. In the first eight months of 2008, the university recycled more than 2,500 pieces of IT equipment. 

"We’re budget conscious right now," Pambrun said. "Obviously, we want to encourage it even more because of the state of our economy."

Colleges’ smorgasbord of green efforts isn’t driven exclusively by a desire for environmental stewardship. After incremental increases in campus utility costs at the beginning of this decade, universities have seen electricity bills skyrocket in recent years. Some campuses–including Western Kentucky University, the University of Kentucky, and several Pennsylvania public colleges–are facing utility deficits upwards of $500,000, according to university web sites and local media reports.

When winter break started at Western Kentucky on Dec. 13, university officials called for a complete shutdown of campus electricity and waterlines–a move that could save the university $80,000. Shutting down circuit breakers in the week between the spring and summer semesters could trim utility costs by $60,000, according to reports.

Penn State University announced in November that its utility bills jumped last year, rising by 15 percent, or about $3 million. The Housing and Food Services Department anticipates another $900,000 increase if Pennsylvania’s electricity rate caps are not reinstated.

While campus budget offices grapple with escalating electricity costs, IT officials say 2009 will be prime time for ramping up greener practices.

"Green initiatives are sometimes expensive, but I can’t think of any instances where I would say too expensive," said Tonelli of Babson College. "Initiatives usually reduce costs, so regardless of the initial outlay, there is most often a very good return on investment."


ACUTA survey on green IT

University of Maine

University of Buffalo

Babson College


Jobs’ hiatus doesn’t ruffle educators

The news that Apple Inc. co-founder and chief executive Steve Jobs is taking a health hiatus until the end of June sent the company’s shares tumbling 4 percent last week, reportedly wiping out some $10 billion in shareholder wealth. But in considering what the news might mean for schools, educational technology leaders who spoke with eSchool News were more measured in their response.

"Steve Jobs, as an iconic leader, represents more to shareholders than to end users at this moment," said Jim Hirsch, associated superintendent for technology at the Plano Independent School District in Texas. "Products that we in education are most interested in have been in the pipeline for some time already, so the medical leave of absence will have little impact on our purchases over the next 12 months."

However, if Jobs does not return to an active role at Apple in the time frame he has indicated, Hirsch said he might be "concerned about [Apple’s] future product direction."

* For more higher-education technology news go to http://www.ecampusnews.com *

Apple’s shares have surged and receded over the past year in step with rumors or news about Jobs’ health and gaunt appearance. The concern was high because Jobs has a hand in everything from ideas for new products to the way they’re marketed, and much of the credit for Apple’s success, rightly or wrongly, is attributed to him.

"Everyone is in a panic that the world will end if Jobs leaves Apple," said Marc Liebman, superintendent of the Berryessa Union School District in San Jose, Calif., which he referred to as "Apple Central."

As for what the news might mean for schools, "I don’t think that it will affect educators one way or the other," Liebman said. "Those that are Apple fans will still want to buy Macs, as I believe they are dedicated to what the Mac can do in the classroom. … So, while the story is big, it won’t change what we do–and I don’t think it will affect Apple’s sales to schools."

Bill Rankin, director of educational innovation at Abilene Christian University in Texas, agreed.

In February, Abilene announced plans to give free iPhones or iPod touches to more than 900 incoming freshman this past fall. Students had a choice between the two Apple products, and two-thirds of freshmen picked the iPhone, said Rankin, who is also an associate professor of English. The university also gave iPods or iPhones to half its faculty, and it will dole out Apple devices to the freshman class next fall.

Rankin said the iPods and iPhones have bolstered professor-student communication and are regularly used to supplement classroom lessons. The news about Jobs’ health, Rankin said, won’t shake the campus’s confidence in Apple.
"I think Apple has so solidified its culture of innovation over the last decade or so … that I think we’re completely confident that Apple will continue to lead in educational innovation," Rankin said. "We’re committed to [the company]."
Although campus officials were concerned for Jobs personally, Rankin said schools that have worked closely with Apple this decade likely are confident that the company’s business model and infrastructure will remain intact.
"I don’t think anyone was particularly worried about the company’s health," he said. "I think [Apple] is in a really good place … and we’re going full steam ahead."

In 2006, Georgia College & State University (GCSU) emerged as a higher-education leader in using Apple products–including the iPod–in the classroom. GCSU officials said student and faculty reaction was overwhelmingly positive, and the incorporation of Apple technology helped stabilize enrollment.

Jim Wolfgang, director of GCSU’s Digital Innovation Group, said the news of Jobs’ hiatus was "somewhat worrisome," but meetings with other Apple officials over the years have instilled confidence among GCSU decision makers.

"Even though the visions tend to come out of Jobs’ presentations, if you see the internal workings [at Apple], you see the dedicated ownership by the staff and you see those visions are carried out in a very conscientious way," he said.

Wolfgang said he has worked closely with Apple in recent months to deploy iTunes U–which allows students to download lectures and other classroom material onto their iPods–at 35 public colleges and universities across Georgia. After tracking Apple’s involvement with higher education, Wolfgang said Jobs’ announcement shook some educators.

"It was really a feeling of disappointment," Wolfgang said. "But I think innovative things will continue to come down the line. We’re still optimistic about the future of working with Apple."

Christopher Dawson, technology director for the Athol-Royalston School District in northern Massachusetts and a blogger for ZDNet, took a different tack in a recent blog post provocatively titled "Could Jobs’ departure [be] good news for education?"

"Apple largely seems to have forgotten about the market that [it] built in the 80s and that helped sustain [the company] through leaner times," Dawson wrote, referring to education.

"Apple is [largely] a consumer products company now, but [it has] a lot to offer the educational market. [Apple’s products] handle multimedia and the web very well … and make content creation a snap for students and teachers. … The problem is that they’re just so bloody expensive."

Perhaps with new leadership at the helm, Dawson suggested, Apple will renew its focus on developing cost-effective products for schools.

Apple’s chief operating officer, Tim Cook, will take over Jobs’ responsibilities while he is on leave, though Jobs said he plans to remain involved in major strategic decisions.

Jobs proved his technological genius long ago, analysts say. Now, Cook will provide some insight into whether Jobs was smart enough to groom an executive who can keep the shine on Apple even when Jobs isn’t around.

Bob Moore, executive director of information technology for the Blue Valley Schools in Overland Park, Kan., concluded: "If Apple’s success is as dependent on Steve Jobs as many in the media would have us believe, then Jobs has failed miserably as a leader in building a sustainable vision for Apple."


Apple Inc.

Plano Independent School District

Berryessa Union School District

Abilene Christian University

Georgia College & State University

Athol-Royalston School District

Dawson’s blog

Blue Valley Schools

Note to readers:

Don’t forget to visit the Measuring 21st-century skills resource center. Graduates who enter the workplace with a solid grasp of 21st-century skills bring value to both the workplace and global marketplace. Go to: Measuring 21st-century skills


Award winning mimio Interactive

The award winning mimio® Interactive turns any dry erase whiteboard into a full functioning interactive whiteboard. A simple mounting system allows the small, portable device to be easily attached to the board. When connected to a computer and used with a projector, mimio Interactive activates a projected display area of up to 4 feet by 8 feet that is touch sensitive using the mimio® Mouse interactive stylus. Users have the flexibility to control and annotate computer desktop applications, web sites and documents directly from the whiteboard. Because mimio Interactive is sold as a complete system ready to go “out of the box,” it can easily be integrated into classrooms and conference rooms without users having to sacrifice their current whiteboard configuration and use. The powerful mimio® Studio software is included with every mimio system. This easy to use suite of tools enables users to design and present interactive content.



St. Cloud schools test revolutionary new wireless technology

The St. Cloud, Minn., school district is paying $19.95 a month for a new wireless service — and the right to be the first customer for something that some people say will be huge, reports the St. Cloud Times. The laptop computer sitting on the table in the St. Cloud superintendent’s office looks like any other. But its wireless internet access is a bit different. A chip in an LED light above is carrying the signals rather than a radio wave.
The use of light to carry communications is creating a buzz among local leaders who have seen it. Its inventor, St. Cloud resident John Pederson, says visible-light embedded wireless data communication is the next step in the evolution of wireless communications, one that will expand the possibilities in phone and computer use. The connection provides internet access with almost no wiring, better security, and with speeds more than eight times faster than cable, he says. "I believe, if he is successful, he can revolutionize technology like we haven’t seen before," said Micah Meyers, information technology coordinator for the city of St. Cloud. If it works out as Pederson plans, his project would replace the need for fiber optic wires that run underground and in buildings. Cell phones and laptops could be used on airplanes, because this wireless technology would not interfere with navigation systems. And because light does not travel through walls, cell phones and government and banking information would be more secure. Meyers said there are some things that still need to be worked out, including interference from other light sources. But school officials see visible-light embedded communications technology as a big money-saver. It now costs St. Cloud schools $300 per room to hook up internet access. The LVX System, as it is called, requires just the plug-in for the box that catches the signal from the chip in the LED light and sends it into the computer. The box is slightly bigger than a deck of cards. It’s still in its early stages, and Pederson is looking for businesses or schools that want to install it and allow Pederson to test it and work out the kinks. Right now, the only connection is in Jordahl’s space at the district administration offices…

Click here for the full story


Economics a sore subject for public schools

During the economic downturn after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, half the states still managed to avoid major school aid cuts – but this time, up against the worst economic crisis in decades, schools are not immune, Stateline.org reports. Georgia, Hawaii, Nevada, and South Carolina are among states that cut into elementary and secondary education budgets for the current school year. In November, North Carolina schools were forced to return $58 million to help cover an expected shortfall. Alabama, California, New York, Utah, Virginia, and Washington also expect to reduce school funding this year. Alabama schools could face the largest cuts in 48 years. Washington is considering cuts of more than $1 billion. In California, Republican legislators have proposed cuts of up to $10 billion. The story is the same throughout the country. States and school districts have begun pinching pennies wherever they can. Economy measures include changing school bus routes, forcing children to walk farther; buying fewer new library books and assigning librarians to multiple schools; and asking parents to help supply such basics as toilet paper. Art, music and other elective classes are getting the ax, and classes are becoming more crowded. Only two years ago, Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue said he would withhold state funding if school districts didn’t comply with a 2006 state law limiting class size; now, the state is waiving the requirement until at least 2010. The Los Angeles School District might sell billboard space on school grounds that face a freeway, and Nevada’s Clark County School District, which has to find cuts of at least $120 million in each of the next two school years, has discussed selling ads on school buses…

Click here for the full story


Stimulus bill includes $142B for education

Some $20 billion for school modernization and $1 billion for educational technology are among nearly $150 billion in funding targeted toward education in the House version of the new economic stimulus package, which lawmakers introduced Jan. 15.

Working closely with President-elect Barack Obama, House Democrats called for $825 billion altogether in federal spending and tax cuts to revive the economy, with strong emphasis on energy, education, health care, and jobs-producing highway construction.

The legislation calls for federal spending of roughly $550 billion and tax cuts of $275 billion over the next two years–totals certain to change as the measure works its way through Congress.

A good chunk of the money is ticketed for education, including money for schools and colleges to shield them from the effects of state cutbacks in services, as well as tax credits designed to make college more affordable.

"We will enable students of all ages to learn in 21st-century classrooms, labs, and libraries to help our students compete with any worker in the world," reads a press release about the proposal, called the American Recovery and Reinvestment Plan.

The education portion of the bill includes:

– $41 billion to boost learning in local K-12 school districts through Title I ($13 billion), IDEA ($13 billion), a new School Modernization and Repair Program ($14 billion), and the Education Technology block-grant program ($1 billion);

– $79 billion in state fiscal relief to prevent cutbacks to key services, including $39 billion to local school districts and public colleges and universities using existing formulas, $15 billion to states as bonus grants for meeting key performance measures, and $25 billion to states for other high-priority needs, such as preventing the layoffs of public safety and other critical employees, including teachers;

– $6 billion in school modernization funds for colleges and universities; and

– Funding to make college more affordable, including $15.6 billion to increase the maximum Pell Grant amount by $500, from $4,850 to $5,350, and tax credits for up to $2,500 per year spent in college tuition.

Democratic leaders in Congress have pledged to have a bill ready for Obama to sign by mid-February.

Obama’s top aides have worked closely in recent days with Democrats in Congress to shape legislation that generally adheres to the president-elect’s wishes.

At the same time, lawmakers departed dramatically in one area, jettisoning the incoming administration’s call to give a $3,000 tax credit for each new job created by private companies.

Another key priority of the new administration was preserved, though. The summary calls for a tax credit of $500 per worker and $1,000 per working couple.

The measure does not include money to help middle-class taxpayers ensnared in the so-called Alternative Minimum Tax, which was originally designed to prevent the extremely wealthy from avoiding payment of taxes. Several officials said the Senate was likely to include that provision in its version of the bill, a step that could push the overall total close to $900 billion.

With unemployment rising, and applications for various forms of federal aid keeping pace, the legislation calls for increased spending on food stamps, unemployment insurance, and job training. House leaders also called for $30 billion for highway construction and $10 billion for mass transit and rail.

The summary claimed there would be "unprecedented accountability" in how funds are spent and said the bill would include no earmarks, the pet projects that lawmakers are fond of.

In addition, Democrats said all announcements of contracts and grant competitions would be posted on a web site to be created by the new administration.

"This recovery package is the first crucial step in a concerted effort to create and save 3 to 4 million jobs, jumpstart our economy, and transform it for the 21st century," the release says. "This plan means real change: It will strengthen the middle class, not just Wall Street CEOs and special interests in Washington."

To strengthen America’s ability to compete in a global economy, the bill provides $10 billion for science facilities, research, and instrumentation "to focus American brainpower on solving the energy and climate challenges and finding cures and treatments for diseases," and another $6 billion to expand broadband internet access "so businesses in rural and other underserved areas can link up to the global economy. For every dollar invested in broadband, the economy sees a ten-fold return on that investment," the release says.

Funds for energy-related programs were sprinkled throughout the legislation, reflecting a priority not only of Obama, but also House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and numerous lawmakers in both houses of Congress.

Included is $32 billion to upgrade the nation’s electrical distribution system, more than $20 billion in tax cuts to promote the development of alternatives to oil fuels, and billions more to make public housing, federal buildings, and modest-income homes more energy-efficient.

At $825 billion, the legislation would be one of the largest bills ever to move through Congress, and by traditional standards, lawmakers were moving with unusual speed.

House committees are working on a schedule that calls for votes next week on parts of the bill, which would then be advanced to the floor for a vote during the last week of January.

A companion measure is expected to move along roughly the same timeline in the Senate, and congressional leaders have expressed confidence they would be able to agree on a final version by the time of a scheduled vacation coinciding with Presidents’ Day, Feb. 16.

Other items in the measure include funds for state and local law-enforcement officials and money to computerize health records, a key priority of the incoming president.

Businesses would be able to reduce their taxes through a provision that expands their ability to write off current losses again past profits, and by accelerating the depreciation of new plants and equipment.

First-time homeowners also would get a break. The bill eliminates the requirement for them to repay a new $7,500 tax credit created in a housing measure that passed last summer.

The measure calls for $90 billion to help the states meet the rising cost of providing health care for the poor in the recession, and another $39 billion to subsidize coverage by out-of-work wage-earners who cannot afford the cost of their employer-covered health care.


American Recovery and Reinvestment Plan