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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

Stimulus Package to Quickly Impact Education Technology

The federal budget for tech in schools is expected to double.
By Alexandra R. Moses

Education technology gets a $650 million boost under the economic-stimulus plan, more than doubling the current federal budget for it and proving that President Obama's commitment to technology is more than just words.

As states deal with budget cuts in education, it's noteworthy that the stimulus package sets aside money specifically for education technology. States also will get about $40 billion to stem the anticipated budget cuts. But rather than simply hope some of that cash will go toward enhancing technology in schools, the separate pot of $650 million ensures that some money will.

The money goes to the U.S. Department of Education's Enhancing Education Through Technology (Ed-Tech) program, from which states get money to distribute to school districts. States can use this technology money to pay for things such as professional development to help teachers learn how technology can improve their lessons, software programs to enhance lesson plans, and computer labs.

"This money is coming at exactly the right time," says Sylvia Martinez, president of Generation Yes, which trains students to be tech problem solvers. "It should impact education relatively quickly."

Where the Money May Go

The Ed-Tech program already has a method in place for distributing money, funding purchases such as technology that enhances the curriculum and data systems that track student achievement. States distribute some of the Ed-Tech money to districts based on their percentage of low-income students.

The Department of Education on Wednesday announced it will, in the coming days, post specific guidelines and timetables for all the education funding in the stimulus package, but it plans to get half the money out to states within 40 days; the second half will follow in six months.

Advances in education technology are already happening; this extra money will help keep it moving. "People say you can't throw money at problems," Martinez says. "But actually, if you don't have the tools you need, you do need to buy them. You do need the funding."

Under the stimulus, the $650 million goes out over two years and is on top of the Ed-Tech program's regular budget. In 2008, that budget was $267 million.

The final figure was disappointing to some who believe that the $1 billion allocated in original versions of the stimulus bill was a more appropriate amount, and it's not clear why the money was reduced. In fact, the budget for the Ed-Tech program used to be much higher: In 2002, it was $700 million. Still, it's important to note that former president George W. Bush proposed cutting the program altogether in 2005 and 2007.

Hilary Goldmann, director of government affairs with the International Society for Technology in Education, called the money a "significant infusion." But, she added, "it's not going to be the kind of stimulus we had originally hoped it would be."

To really ensure that all schools -- low-income schools in particular -- are technology rich (properly wired, with tech-savvy administrators and teachers and the right software and hardware) would take about $9.9 billion, Goldmann says. Of course, no matter what the final figure is, there's always room for more. "Once you spread out that money around 50 states, it starts to feel like it's never enough," says Generation Yes's Sylvia Martinez.

Debate will rage on over what's enough funding and whether improved Internet connectivity should have more of a focus. But in the end, the money should help schools upgrade at least some of their technology rather quickly. Because this money is a rare case in the stimulus bill in which funding guidelines are already well established, districts should already have a sense of what to expect from their states.

While promoting the stimulus bill last month, President Obama said, "We'll provide new computers, new technology, and new training for teachers so that students in Chicago and Boston can compete with kids in Beijing for the high tech, high-wage jobs of the future."

With this additional money for technology, schools can get started.

Alexandra R. Moses is a freelance writer in the Washington, DC, area who specializes in education.

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