Texas school districts have sharply scaled back their spending on educational technology in large part because of big funding cuts imposed by the state Legislature.

Efforts to bring Texas students into the 21st century with new technology in classrooms have suffered a huge setback this school year—at the very time the state Legislature tried to make it easier for schools to upgrade.

School districts have sharply scaled back their spending on educational technology in large part because of big funding cuts imposed by the Legislature, financial reports from the Texas Education Agency show.

Expenditures on laptops, desktops, portable computers, and related hardware have been reduced to about a tenth of what was spent last year, and school districts have used only 4 percent of their state aid for instructional materials on technology this year. That’s in spite of a 2011 law that allows them to spend textbook money on technology as well as books.

“It’s a pretty bleak picture for technology in our schools this year,” said Jennifer Bergland of the Texas Computer Education Association, a group representing technology officials in school districts. She noted that districts such as Dallas and Houston eliminated their instructional technology departments last year to save money.

“I’m not saying that school districts did the wrong thing in cutting back on technology,” she said. “They had tough choices to make, and you’re always going to cut expenses for technology and equipment before you lay off teachers.”

Still, hopes were high last year that school districts would use a significant amount of money from the new State Instructional Materials Fund to upgrade technology offerings for their students.

A report from the House Research Organization predicted that the new funding source “would allow school districts to level the playing field across student populations by providing access to technology and of-the-moment information for low-income students who might not otherwise have access to the material.”

But of the $351 million that Texas districts spent on learning materials this year, just $14.9 million has been spent on technology devices and services.

‘Chilling effect’

Last year, districts spent about $135 million on technology from a state fund. That was before the 2011 Legislature cut regular funding for public schools by $4 billion over two years and trimmed $1.4 billion more in grant money for education.