Internet sales-tax debate heats up

An increasingly thorny debate being waged among state legislatures and internet-based retailers could have huge implications for schools, as the sinking economy threatens to undermine education programs.

With the recession pummeling states’ budgets, many state lawmakers want to fill the gaps by collecting taxes on internet sales, which continue to grow even as the economy shudders. And such proposals are sparking conflicts with companies that do business only online and have enjoyed being able to offer sales-tax-free shopping.

One of the most aggressive states, New York, is being sued by Amazon.com Inc. over a new requirement that online companies must collect taxes on shipments to New York residents, even if the companies are located elsewhere. New York’s governor also wants to tax songs downloaded from internet services such as iTunes.

The amount of money at stake nationwide is unclear; online sales were expected to make up about 8 percent of all retail sales in 2008 and total $204 billion, according to Forrester Research. That’s up from $175 billion in 2007.

Based on that 2008 figure, Forrester analyst Sucharita Mulpuru says her rough estimate is that if online retailers had to collect taxes on all sales to consumers, it could generate $3 billion in new revenue for state and local governments–some of which would trickle down to schools.

It’s unclear how much more could come from unpaid sales taxes on internet transactions between businesses as well. But even with both kinds of taxes available, state budgets would need more help. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities estimates that the states’ budget gaps in the current fiscal year will total $89 billion.

Collecting online sales taxes is not as simple as it might sound. A nationwide internet business faces thousands of tax-collecting jurisdictions–states, counties, and cities–and tangled rules about how various products are taxed.

And a 1992 U.S. Supreme Court ruling said that states can’t force businesses to collect sales taxes unless the businesses have operations in that state. The court also said Congress could lift the ban, which remains in place–for now.

As a result, generally only those businesses with a "physical presence" in a state–such as a store or office building–collect sales tax on products sent to buyers in the same state. For instance, a Californian buying something from Barnes & Noble Inc.’s web site pays sales tax, because the bookseller has stores in the Golden State. Buying the same thing directly from Amazon.com would not ring up sales tax.

That doesn’t mean products purchased online from out-of-state companies are necessarily tax-free. Consumers are usually supposed to self-report taxes on these items. This is called a use tax, but not surprisingly, it tends to go unreported.

In hopes of unraveling the complex tax rules–and bringing states, and their schools, more money–22 states and many brick-and-mortar retailers support the efforts of a group called the Streamlined Sales Tax Governing Board. The group is getting states to simplify and make uniform their numerous tax rates and rules, in exchange for a crack at taxing online sales.

Among other things, participating states need to change how they define things such as "food" and "clothing." For example, one state might now consider a T-shirt clothing and tax it as such, while another might consider it a sporting good and tax it differently.

In response, more than 1,100 retailers have registered with the streamlining group and are collecting sales taxes on items shipped to states that are part of the agreement–even if they are not legally obligated to.

The streamlining board also is lobbying Congress to let the participating states do what the Supreme Court ruling banned: They could force businesses to collect taxes on sales made to in-state customers, even if the businesses don’t have a physical presence there.

New Jersey, Michigan, and North Carolina are among the largest of the 19 states that have adjusted their tax laws to fully comply with the group’s streamlined setup. Washington was the only state to join in 2008, but three more states are close to becoming full members of the group. And Scott Peterson, the group’s executive director, expects another seven states–including Texas, Florida, and Illinois–to introduce legislation this month that would make them eligible to join.

Undoing the patchwork can be difficult, even if the weak economy increases states’ motivation to go after online sales taxes. Similar bills have been introduced in several states and failed, sometimes because of the cost of changing tax laws. New York, for example, decided against joining the streamlining board because it would require extensive revisions to its tax rules.

Besides various states and retailers such as Wal-Mart Stores Inc., Borders Group Inc., and J.C. Penney Co. — the National Retail Federation, the industry’s biggest trade group, also supports the Streamlined Sales Tax group.

Companies that handle internet-only sales have organized as well. NetChoice, whose members include eBay Inc. and online discount retailer Overstock.com Inc., supports the states’ tax simplification efforts, but its executive director, Steve DelBianco, says online retailers should have to collect taxes only in states where they have a physical presence.

But what if the meaning of "physical presence" is changed? New York essentially did that in April when its budget included a provision requiring online retailers like Amazon to collect taxes on purchases made by New Yorkers.

The new rule requires retailers to collect sales tax if they solicit business in New York by paying anyone within the state for leading customers to them. Because some web site operators within New York are compensated for posting ads that link to sites like Amazon, the online retailers would have to collect taxes.

Matt Anderson, a spokesman for the New York State Division of the Budget, said the state expects to reap $23 million during the current fiscal year, which ends March 31, from newly collected online sales taxes.

That’s a sliver of the overall state budget for the same period, which is $119.7 billion. The state faces a total revenue gap of $1.7 billion.

Still, revenues that size could help in a region that, in an effort to make ends meet, reportedly asked its state university campuses to slash 10 percent from their operating budgets last fall.

Anderson said New York wants "to level the playing field and end the unfair competitive advantage" that web-only companies have over brick-and-mortar stores that can’t avoid collecting sales taxes.

Amazon complies, and it collects sales taxes on shipments to New York. However, Amazon is still fighting the rule. It sued New York in April, alleging its provision is unconstitutional. Amazon also said it is being specifically targeted by the law. The case is still pending, and Amazon declined further comment.

Salt Lake City-based Overstock is also suing New York over the law. Unlike Amazon, Overstock is not collecting sales tax in New York, because it ended agreements with about 3,400 affiliates in the state that were being paid for directing traffic to Overstock.com.

The Streamlined Sales Tax group hopes Congress takes up its uniform-tax idea in 2009. Peterson thinks the dismal economy boosts the chances of passage.

But Congress also will be occupied with economic stimulus plans involving bigger pools of money. And Mulpuru, the Forrester Research analyst, notes that for years there has been talk of taxing online retailers.

"It’s a legal morass," she said. "In a best-case scenario, it’s going to take a while to sort everything out."

Links:

Streamlined Sales Tax Governing Board

NetChoice

Note to readers:

Don’t forget to visit the Technology Without Breaking the Bank resource center. With every dollar at a premium, school and district leaders are looking for ways to cut costs without sacrificing their education initiatives. The good news is, new advancements in technology make this scenario possible. Strategies such as software virtualization, software as a service, open-source software and open technologies, and a new breed of low-cost computers enable school IT directors to streamline their operations and bolster their ed-tech programs-without breaking the bank. Go to: Technology Without Breaking the Bank

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Post video to eSN.TV–earn national recognition

Thanks to our Student Video Network (SVN) initiative at eSN.TV, your students can earn valuable video-production experience–and a shot at national recognition for their efforts.

eSchool News founded the SVN to give students across North America the chance to experience what it’s like to be real news anchors and reporters. Now, beginning this month, students can upload their own videos to eSN.TV for consideration.

We’ve upgraded our web site to allow users to post their own videos to www.eSchoolNews.TV. And we’re encouraging students to create and submit video samples that illustrate how they handle breaking news coverage. Simply click on the “Upload Video” tab to get started.

If your school’s sample video is chosen, you might be invited to become an SVN affiliate. After that, not only will your students get to experience real deadlines and the fast pace of daily news programming, but their work also will be available for viewing by the hundreds of thousands of members of the eSchool News Network. They’ll develop samples for their video portfolios–and, of course, they’ll have loads of fun learning practical, real-world skills.

If you submit a sample video for the SVN, we ask that you choose two or three stories from the “Top News” section of our home page and create a student newscast. This newscast should present a summary of the stories you’ve chosen, enough for a two- to three-minute video clip. If possible, the stories you choose should have a common theme or topic that ties them together. To view actual examples of SVN productions, go to www.eSchoolNews.TV, and in the category box, select “Student Video Network.”

If your video is chosen to go live on our site, we’ll follow up with you regarding additional procedures–but schools that agree to become SVN affiliates should expect to complete about one video newscast per week.

Being a part of the SVN offers more than just the benefit of recognition from our thousands of online viewers; affiliate members also have the chance of being honored for their outstanding work. Details are still being worked out, but here’s the basic concept:

Each month, eSchool News will announce the most-watched SVN video of the month, and every four months, we’ll assemble a judging panel to choose the best video of the quarter. Judges will choose videos based on criteria such as relevancy, quality of content, and creativity, and each quarter’s winners could be invited to a major ed-tech event such as the annual National Education Computing Conference for an awards ceremony. During this ceremony, under this scenario, one of the four schools would be named “SVN News Team of the Year.”

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Apple’s Steve Jobs announces health hiatus

Apple Inc. co-founder and chief executive Steve Jobs said Jan. 14 he is taking a health hiatus until the end of June — just a week after the cancer survivor tried to assure investors and employees that his recent weight loss was caused by an easily treatable hormone deficiency. 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, 53, said in a letter a week earlier that he would remain at Apple’s helm despite the problem and that he had begun treatment. But in an eMail to employees Jan. 14, Jobs said he had learned "that my health-related issues are more complex than I originally thought."

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.

Cook is seen as one of Jobs’ most likely successors, along with Apple’s top marketing executive, Philip Schiller. American Technology Research analyst Brian Marshall said Apple’s Jan. 14 announcement tips the bets in Cook’s favor.

"The company has been soft-signaling to the Street for a while now that Steve Jobs is not going to be CEO forever," he said. "This will be sort of a trial period for Cook to be chief executive."

Jobs proved his technological genius long ago. 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.

Those familiar with Cook and his contributions to Apple’s success are confident he will prove the Cupertino, Calif.-based gadget and computer maker isn’t a one-man show.

"Tim is as good as they come, an extraordinary executive," said Mike Janes, who worked with Cook for five years at Apple. "I don’t think there will be any disruption at all while Steve is away."

Cook, 48, is taking the reins of Apple for at least the next five months while Jobs takes a leave to deal with some "complex" health issues. It’s a road Cook has been down before, having run Apple for two months in 2004 while Jobs recovered from surgery for pancreatic cancer.

The temporary transition went so smoothly that Apple promoted him from executive vice president to chief operating officer in 2005. Cook has since become Apple’s top-paid executive, with a salary of $800,000 for the current fiscal year. (Jobs famously limits his salary to $1.)

Although Cook has been running Apple’s day-to-day operations for several years, he has happily remained in the background while the charismatic Jobs commanded the spotlight.

While Jobs rolled out hot products like the iPod and iPhone, analysts credit Cook for doing a masterful job figuring out the proper balance between supply and demand. His inventory management has played a pivotal role in Apple’s ability to accumulate $24.5 billion in cash and short-term investments — a huge asset in today’s credit crunch.

"As soon as he got there, Apple stopped making operational errors," said industry analyst Roger Kay of Endpoint Technology Associates. "They used to be like the Keystone Cops — they’d generate demand, but have no product."

But Cook’s skills still may not be enough to allay worries that Apple will lose its way if Jobs isn’t there to orchestrate the brainstorming that leads to the company’s market-changing products.

"You can’t have someone held up in every magazine as the best leader in the world and on the other hand say if he leaves it doesn’t matter," said Marshall Goldsmith, an executive coach who teaches at Dartmouth University. "If there was an announcement tomorrow that Jobs is being replaced by God, the stock price would still go down."

Although he is quiet, Cook is no shrinking violet. A devout cyclist off the job, Cook is a workaholic who devours energy bars throughout his long days at the office. Like Jobs, he can be demanding and expects his subordinates to have the answers about both big and small business issues.

"He has the ability to be looking at things from 100,000 feet one minute and then drill down to the windshield level the next," said Janes, who now runs FanSnap, a Web site that searches for tickets. "We used to say you could get the bends talking to Tim because he would dive down so deeply."

A native of Alabama, Cook graduated from Auburn University in 1982 with an engineering degree. He is said to still be a huge fan of Auburn’s football team.

Before joining Apple in 1998, Cook worked at IBM Corp. for 12 years and spent a short time at Compaq Computer.

Jobs isn’t the only business legend that Cook has gotten to know in his career. He also is a director at Nike Inc., where its founder, Phil Knight, remains chairman.

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Free digital resources aim to capture students interest in science

The Siemens Foundation and Discovery Education have unveiled a new web site that aims to engage students in science education. “Siemens Science Day” provides standards-based videos and hands-on activities for earth, life, and physical science that can help educators turn fourth through sixth graders into aspiring scientists, the two organizations say. “Educators are often challenged to find new ways within their existing curriculum to interest students in science education,” said Dale Fulton, Discovery Education’s senior vice president of curriculum development. “Siemens Science Day provides many new and creative ways to present lessons on a variety of science topics, all tied to national science standards. In addition, each activity invites student involvement, engaging students in the learning process.” Each activity on the web site includes step-by-step directions for in-class use, a materials list, at-home extensions that promote learning beyond the classroom, and related video clips. More activities will be added to the web site in the coming months, its organizers say—creating a rich database of science experiments and demonstrations that help students learn by doing.

 

http://www.siemensscienceday.com

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Panel: Technology alone can’t protect kids online

A task force charged with assessing technologies for protecting children from unwanted contact online has concluded that no single approach is foolproof and that parent and teacher oversight is vital.

The Harvard-led panel, in a report released Jan. 14, dismissed prospects for age-verification technologies, the approach favored by many law-enforcement officials who had pushed for the creation of the task force.

The yearlong Internet Safety Technical Task Force also played down fears of internet sexual predators who target children on social-networking sites such as Facebook and MySpace. Although citing other dangers such as online bullying, the panel said cases of predators typically involved youths well aware they were meeting an adult for sexual activities.

Technology can be a component in the strategy to protect minors online, but internet companies "should not overly rely upon any single technology or group of technologies as the primary solution," the task force said.

"Parents, teachers, mentors, social services, law enforcement, and minors themselves all have crucial roles to play in ensuring online safety for all minors," the report said.

It added: "The risk profile for the use of different genres of social media depends on the type of risk, common uses by minors, and the psychosocial makeup of minors who use them. Social network sites are not the most common space for solicitation and unwanted exposure to problematic content, but are frequently used in peer-to-peer harassment–most likely because they are broadly adopted by minors and are used primarily to reinforce pre-existing social relations."

And: "Minors are not equally at risk online. Those who are most at risk often engage in risky behaviors and have difficulties in other parts of their lives. The psychosocial makeup of and family dynamics surrounding particular minors are better predictors of risk than the use of specific media or technologies."

The report’s findings largely echo the consensus reached by a panel of internet safety experts at the 2008 National Educational Computing Conference: that education is the best tool for keeping kids safe online, and that students who meet with internet predators nearly always seek this kind of sexual activity knowingly. (Editor’s note: To watch a nine-minute video news report on the panel’s discussion, go to www.eschoolnews.tv and search for the clip titled "Online safety: Dispelling common myths.")

The findings come as little surprise as law enforcement, internet companies, child-safety advocates, and policy makers seek to address fears of internet sexual predators.

Rather, the report serves to synthesize what many researchers and child-safety advocates have been saying. The report also identifies areas in which more studies are needed–on what sex offenders do at social-networking sites, and how minors are approached sexually by other minors.

Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, one of the leading forces behind the task force’s creation, criticized the report for relying on "outdated and inadequate" research to downplay the threat of predators. Blumenthal said the task force should have made more specific recommendations for implementing and improving technologies.

"The report is a step forward, but it has to be followed by other steps," Blumenthal said in an interview.

Parry Aftab, a child-safety advocate with task-force member WiredSafety.org, said the group produced a report that essentially "we could have done without spending a year. We could have said there isn’t enough research out there."

But she said she agreed with its conclusions: Kids are typically at risk because they put themselves at risk rather than because they are tricked, and technology isn’t enough to address that.

The task force was headed by internet scholars at Harvard University and grew out of an agreement MySpace reached with most state attorneys general a year ago. Members of the panel include internet service companies and nonprofit groups, including those focused on children’s safety.

The panel’s recommendations are nonbinding.

John Palfrey, the Harvard law professor who served as task force chairman, said the panel had no funding for new research and saw its role as synthesizing the disparate studies already conducted.

The task force recommended that companies develop best practices and, before implementing any technology, consider how well that technology addresses actual risks minors face online and whether it infringes on users’ privacy and other rights.

Hemanshu Nigam, chief security officer at News Corp.’s MySpace, welcomed the task force’s findings and said it "identifies key areas on which industry can focus efforts to increase online safety."

Companies that make age-verification technologies were among the leading critics of the task force.

Aristotle International Inc. said in a statement that the task force shifted from its mandate to focus on identity-authentication tools.

"The report is unfocused and addresses far too many non-SNS [social-networking site], non-technical issues," Aristotle said. "Many recommendations are generic, obvious, and redundant."

Link:

Internet Safety Technical Task Force

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Broward makes it easier for students to ‘text’ tips

Florida’s Broward County Schools are keeping up with the high-tech times by offering students a new way to make anonymous tips when something dangerous happens on campus, reports the Sun-Sentinel of South Florida: text messaging. When Superintendent James Notter responded to Dillard High School immediately after a student was fatally shot in a crowded hallway on Nov 12, he realized that students nowadays communicate through text messages, said Joe Melita, executive director of the district’s special investigative unit. The school district has a 24-hour hotline that students, staff, and parents can call to alert district security staff of potential threats. Now, they can also send text messages. Anonymous text tips go to Melita’s BlackBerry, as well as the cell phone of three additional security personnel, he said. "I’ve always operated under the notions that kids know more than we do," Melita said. "This give kids the opportunity to share what they know with us."

Click here for the full story

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Duncan impresses during Senate hearing

At his Senate confirmation hearing Jan. 13, Education Secretary-designate Arne Duncan said he hopes to be able to continue the "Obama effect" with children by improving access to early childhood education programs, raising standards and increasing teacher quality in K-12 schools, and boosting access to higher education.

During Duncan’s confirmation hearing with the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions, Maryland Sen. Barbara Mikulski told the story of a student in a Baltimore school who told his teacher he wanted to be "smart" when he grew up–like President-elect Barack Obama.

"We need to harvest this Obama effect," she said.

Duncan agreed that Obama and his wife Michelle have created an opportunity to show children living examples of what can be achieved when they work hard to get a good education.

"Never before has being smart been so cool, and working hard been so cool," he said. "In Barack Obama and in Michelle Obama, we have two people who are living symbols of education."

Duncan said that in an era of global economics, rapid technological change, and extreme economic disparity, education is the most pressing issue facing America.

"Preparing young people for success in life is not just a moral obligation of society. It’s an economic imperative. As President-elect Obama has said many times, the nations that out-teach us today will out-compete us tomorrow," Duncan said. "Education is also the civil-rights issue of our generation–the only sure path out of poverty and the only way to achieve a more equal and just society."

Obama has stated that he believes all children should have access to high-quality early childhood education and child care, as does Duncan.

"We have to start early, and we have to stay with them the whole way through," he said of making sure educators are engaged with their students. "If we think there’s a magic bullet at one point, we’re kidding ourselves. I wish it were that simplistic."

Both Obama and Duncan have stated that while they don’t wish to throw out President Bush’s signature No Child Left Behind law, there is a need for an overhaul. However, neither Obama nor Duncan have mentioned specifics about what should be done to rework the widely unpopular law.

Duncan told the Senate committee the law should not punish schools where only a handful of kids are struggling.

He praised the law for shining a spotlight on children who need the most help. NCLB holds schools accountable for progress among each group of kids, including those who have disabilities or are learning English.

But right now, a school is labeled as failing if only one group of kids is struggling, even when the rest of the kids are making gains. Give individual kids more tutoring and other support, Duncan said–but "let’s not take too blunt an instrument to an entire school. Those teachers are doing a Herculean job, and we need to recognize that. We need to reward that."

NCLB prods schools to improve test scores each year, so that every student can read and do math on grade level by the year 2014. It was due for a rewrite in 2007, but the effort stalled. Lawmakers hope to try again within the next several months.

At the same time, Duncan praised an idea that teachers’ unions have resisted: teacher pay raises tied to student performance. Duncan started a performance-pay program in Chicago with federal dollars from the Education Department.

"That’s something that I want to look at, to not just support but also potentially increase," Duncan said. "The more we reward excellence, the better our students can do."

Duncan said he intends to travel the country recruiting new teachers and to take steps to keep teachers on the job.

"Given the tough economic times, that actually helps our chances of recruiting great talent," he said.

Duncan also said kids should spend even more time in the classroom. Kids in 200 schools came to class on Saturdays last year, Duncan said, and he brought 15,000 freshmen back to school a month early on a voluntary basis.

"I think our school day is too short, our week is too short, our year is too short," he said.

Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin told Duncan he thought the secretary of education might be one of the Cabinet posts that most affects the American people.

"How we progress really comes down to what kind of education system we have. The secretary of education and the secretary of health and human services have the task for defining America," he said. "We have to do better for education in this country and in health and human services. From what I know of you and what you’ve [said] here today, I think you’re up to the job."

Harkin said he suspected that Duncan would be approved unanimously in the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, and approved in the full Senate.

Duncan, 44, has been CEO of Chicago public schools since 2001. He worked in the school system under former schools chief Paul Vallas after heading an education nonprofit. Before that, he played professional basketball in Australia, where he worked with underprivileged kids as a social worker. He grew up working in his mother’s tutoring program on Chicago’s South Side.

"I grew up with a set of children, none of which looked like me … and despite the challenges at home and the challenges in the community, I saw that success is possible," he said, noting that some of those children grew to become actors, IBM executives, and one even worked with him for the Chicago schools.

He and his family were often targeted–the church where they tutored the children was firebombed, and his mother’s life was threatened–and he said when he was younger he often wondered what compelled his mother to take her three young children to that community every day.

"But the work was so important and the work was bigger than all of us. I plan to work with the same sense of commitment and the same courage for the next four years that my mother exhibited for the past 48," he said.

In Chicago, Duncan managed to raise test scores and graduation rates, and he improved the quality of teaching.

His critics, however, say he shouldn’t get credit for better test scores, because they improved before he took over and state tests became easier during his tenure. Parents who opposed his aggressive school closings say they were disruptive to kids.

Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.

Links:

Education Department

Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee

Office of the President-elect

Note to readers:

Don’t forget to visit the Creating the 21 st Century Classroom" resource center. Preparing today’s youth to succeed in the digital economy requires a new kind of teaching and learning. Skills such as global literacy, computer literacy, problem solving, critical thinking, creativity, and innovation have become critical in today’s increasingly interconnected workforce and society–and technology is the catalyst for bringing these changes into the classroom. Go to Creating-the-21st-century-classroom

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Obama eyes tech-savvy insider for FCC chief

President-elect Barack Obama plans to nominate Julius Genachowski, one of his key technology advisors, to be the next chairman of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), according to a Democratic official.

Genachowski, a friend of Obama’s from their days at Harvard Law School and a top fundraiser for his presidential campaign, would bring a corporate technology background and inside-the-Beltway experience to the FCC. He supports net neutrality, the idea that all internet traffic should be treated equally–a notion supported by many of the nation’s schools and universities. And he favors the expansion of broadband access nationwide as a key driver of economic competitiveness.

The FCC is responsible for policing the nation’s airwaves, regulating the cable and phone industries, and protecting the privacy of consumers. It also oversees the $2.25 billion-a-year e-Rate program, which provides telecommunications discounts to eligible schools and libraries. By law, the party that controls the White House gets to name the chairman and three of the five agency commissioners.

From 1997 to 2005, Genachowski held several executive positions at Barry Diller’s internet conglomerate IAC/InterActive Corp., including chief of business operations and general counsel. Before joining IAC, he spent three years at the FCC during the Clinton administration, including as chief counsel to the chairman. And from 1991 to 1994, he served as a law clerk to Supreme Court Justices David Souter and William Brennan.

Genachowski is known for his detailed technology and innovation plan that supports net neutrality, affordable broadband access across the United States, and media-ownership rules that encourage more diversity. He also spearheaded Obama’s social-networking grassroots campaign during the election.

The Obama team would not confirm earlier reports of the planned appointment, and people with knowledge of Genachowski’s selection spoke on condition of anonymity Jan. 13 because the decision has not been formally announced. The Democratic official noted that the nomination is still not a done deal.

Genachowski now works as a Washington-based venture capitalist and is co-founder of Rock Creek Ventures and LaunchBox Digital, an investment firm.

Former FCC Chairman Reed Hundt, who was Genachowski’s boss at the agency and is working on trade and economics issues for the Obama transition team, praised Genachowski’s background. Hundt noted that if Genachowski were to be picked, he would be the first entrepreneur, the first venture capitalist, and the first technology executive to head the five-member commission.

"People have long thought that the FCC needs a chairman with a sound business background for a Web 2.0 world," he said. "Assuming he is nominated, Julius is the perfect person."

One issue certain to be at the top of Genachowski’s agenda is the upcoming transition from analog to digital television broadcasting, which could black out millions of Americans who rely on analog TV sets to pick up over-the-air channels. The Obama administration is calling on Congress to postpone the transition, which is scheduled for Feb. 17.

Josh Silver, executive director of the public-interest group Free Press, said that "the challenges facing the next FCC are enormous–a vast digital divide, an open internet in jeopardy, consolidated media ownership, newsrooms in economic freefall, and entrenched industries invested in maintaining the status quo. This moment calls for bold and immediate steps to spur competition, foster innovation, and breathe new life into our communications sector. With his unique blend of business and governmental experience, Genachowski promises to provide the strong leadership we need."

Another likely priority for Genachowski is increasing access to affordable high-speed internet connections. The new administration is expected to try to do that by tapping the nation’s wireless spectrum and turning to the Universal Service Fund, which subsidizes telephone service in rural and poor communities and also pays for the e-Rate.

"Given Genachowski’s views on the need for affordable broadband, there is optimism that schools will receive the needed funding to provide technology access for all students, teachers, and staff," said Tracy Gray, managing director for the National Center for Technology Innovation. "He understands technology and what it takes to build a high-quality infrastructure to end users. His views on net neutrality will provide support for those who do not want to increase user fees that schools would not be able to afford. In addition, he realizes the potential for technology to enhance education and reach students who are disengaged in traditional delivery of the curriculum. I believe he will be an advocate for funding to educational technology."

Don Knezek, CEO of the International Society for Technology in Education, agreed that Genachowski is a good choice, saying: "Genachowski is clearly a choice that places priority on openness and access with the public interest in mind. School-age digital learners, as well as mid-career workers involved in retooling and upgrading skills, will likely benefit from the appointment of Genachowski and the educational opportunities his leadership will enable. We are excited to work in very productive ways with the potential head of the FCC."

Links:

Federal Communications Commission

Free Press

National Center for Technology Innovation

International Society for Technology in Education

Note to readers:

Don’t forget to visit the GIS and Geographic Inquiry resource center. "Geospatial" technologies–which include geographic information system (GIS), global positioning system (GPS), and remote sensing (RS) tools–are becoming increasingly important in our everyday lives. These technologies use "smart" maps that can display, query, and analyze geographic databases; receivers that provide location and navigation; and global-to-local imagery and tools that provide context and analysis. Go to: GIS and Geographic Inquiry

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Hard times cut state cyber-school enrollments

Pennsylvania’s 11 cyber charter schools are the latest victims of the recession, reports the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review: Facing the threat of layoffs or mortgage foreclosures, some parents are sending their children back to brick-and-mortar public schools because a stay-at-home spouse had to get a job. "It’s another symptom of the economy," said Sarah McCluan, spokeswoman for Allegheny Intermediate Unit, which operates PA Learners Online Regional Cyber Charter School, based in Homestead. "Our younger grades are most affected, because what we are hearing from parents is that they have to go back to work part or full time because of the economy." Most Pennsylvania cyber charter schools require a parent to stay home and supervise an elementary-age child, serving in many cases as an academic coach. Joe Lyons, spokesman for the Pennsylvania Virtual Charter School in Norristown, the state’s second-largest cyber charter school, said a decrease in enrollment is typical during winter months, when some students decide charter schools aren’t for them, they miss their friends, or they aren’t performing well. But this year, he said, even more students are returning to traditional public schools–a trend he heard is being duplicated at other cyber charter schools. "One of the things parents need to understand is that as the academic coach in our model, they are required to be at home to help their child," Lyons said. "They can’t work full time. They can’t have an older child stay home and help."

Click here for the full story

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