Stimulus funds are flowing to educational technology programs.

Stimulus funds are flowing to educational technology programs.

The federal stimulus package approved by Congress in February included $650 million designated specifically for education technology. That doesn’t include billions more for other programs, such as Title I and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), which could be used for school technology as well. All told, nearly $106 billion in stimulus dollars went to education.

The money came at a good time for schools, many of which had cut ed-tech spending as the economy tanked. School leaders were encouraged to use the stimulus funding to make one-time investments that could have lasting effects, such as using IDEA money to buy assistive technology (AT) devices for students, training students and staff members to use AT devices, and improving their data collection and reporting abilities.

The infusion of more federal money for education technology was welcomed by ed-tech advocacy groups, which had seen annual funding for the Enhancing Education Through Technology (EETT) program, the largest federal school technology initiative, dwindle during President Bush’s second term–from a high-water mark of $696 million in the 2004 fiscal year to $267 million in FY 2009.

Still, the news could have been even better for schools: Education technology was slated to receive $1 billion in earlier drafts of the stimulus bill.

“The funding provides a much-needed down payment toward meeting President Obama’s vision that all students receive the benefits of 21st-century learning environments, but the final level of investment falls short of funding in the House and Senate bills, and far short of what is needed by our students to compete in today’s digital age,” read a statement from the International Society for Technology in Education and the Consortium for School Networking.

What’s more, President Obama proposed just $100 million for EETT in his FY 2010 budget proposal to Congress.

The federal stimulus package might have saved thousands of education programs from coast to coast, but many more remain in jeopardy as a result of lingering state budget crises.

In Missouri, a new round of budget cuts announced Oct. 28 threaten operation of the state’s online school. In Michigan, schools face the prospect of nearly $300 less in state funding per pupil. A Colorado plan would cut $145 million from higher education in that state, Arizona has warned of “massive” teacher layoffs next year, and teacher furloughs in Hawaii have raised citizens’ ire.

“The federal stimulus funds have helped schools, but not as much as hoped,” Mark Bielang, president of the American Association of School Administrators (AASA) and superintendent in Paw Paw, Mich., said in a statement.

AASA on Oct. 27 released findings from a new survey revealing that school districts continue to struggle in response to the economic recession, and many are bracing for further cuts. And while some economists point to signs that the nation’s economy is improving, others say the U.S. faces a much slower climb out of the recession–a scenario that will have a huge effect on public education in the coming years.

States are still waiting to hit bottom and are not likely to do so for another year or two, and education will feel the financial impact for some time after that, said Richard Sims, the chief economist for the National Education Association, at the Software and Information Industry Association’s Ed-Tech Business Forum in December.

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