Oct 31 2006

Tech Funding

Schools scramble to find new funding sources for technology projects as Washington pushes to end E2T2 dollars.

Alan Joch and Kurt A. Steinhaus

RURAL EAST CENTRAL WISCONSIN may not be a place where you’d expect to find a progressive high-tech charter school. But 50 high school students in the city of Kiel are happy that the Kiel eSchool is there.

One pupil used the online high school to keep from being held back when a month-long illness kept her from attending conventional classes. Other students graduated ahead of schedule by completing additional courses, while some classmates revisited classes they failed. The online school demonstrates the positive bond between technology and education.

Now, education experts nationwide worry that this bond may be broken by the dwindling availability of funding for technology initiatives. After years of federal programs that offered funds specifically for classroom technology, Washington appears to be saying that IT is part of the larger educational mix and no longer needs targeted funding.

The 2006 federal budget proposal seeks to eliminate the Title II, Part D Enhancing Education Through Technology (E2T2) program, which at its peak in 2002 provided more than $700 million in technology dollars to schools. At press time, the White House budget retained its recommendations to end E2T2 funding, but House and Senate bills sought to reinstate technology funds of $300 million and $425 million, respectively.

The plan to end E2T2 may conclude a gradual decline in that program since 2002. However, school districts grew to rely on those funds. Leaders of the State Educational Technology Directors Association (SETDA), which is based in Arlington, Va., say that for one-quarter of the states, E2T2 funds have been their only source of technology money. For half of the remaining states, E2T2 is their primary source of tech dollars.

“As of today, we need to recognize the bipartisan support in the House and Senate in their attempts to restore the funding,” says Kurt Steinhaus, deputy cabinet secretary of education, Office of the Governor, New Mexico, and the president of the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE).

“Technology isn’t a thing you buy and you’re done,” he adds. “There are ongoing costs for software, hardware, professional development and networking.” (See “A Call for Action: Ed Tech Funding Strategies ” on page 79.)

Jenelle Leonard, director of School Support and Technology Programs at the U.S. Department of Education, says that even though E2T2 was slated for elimination in the FY 2006 budget, schools still have other federal funding options. “As technology funding sources may be on the decline, we’ll have to look to other areas,” she adds.

One of the best sources is No Child Left Behind, says Leonard, because under appropriate circumstances, parts of the legislation authorize the use of funds for IT purchases. “You have to go through the law and find what uses are authorized, by program, for projects you want to do,” she explains.

Public schools will have to work harder to finance instructional IT projects, creating a mix of funding from state, local and corporate sources.

In Kiel, Sue Steiner, the program director of the online charter school and former technology coordinator for the 1,500-student Kiel Area School District, uses various techniques to find tech dollars. “I’m reading grants written by other people,” she says.

What has Steiner learned from this? “You look at what criteria will be applied for scoring applications and follow the criteria exactly,” she says. “You have others read the application to make sure you’ve written your proposal in layman’s terms so readers understand what you want to do.”

The budget for any proposed project is also essential. “Make sure everything in the budget is allowable by the grant,” Steiner says. “There are many things, such as salaries in some cases, that grants don’t cover.”

In addition, Steiner says building sustainability into each project from the outset is key. For the charter school, she established “seat swapping” with another school and also provides educational services for 14 neighboring districts, which pay for the online courses their pupils take. And she stays alert for “end-of-year” money—the budgeted dollars that remain unspent at the end of June.

As tech funding becomes scarce, schools must become creative, says Kathleen Beck Schrock, the technology administrator for the Nauset Public Schools in Orleans, Mass. Three years ago, she combined entitlement grants totaling $18,500 to buy three “techno tubs,” rolling carts, each of which has a notebook PC, a projector, a portable printer and software. Teachers from any of the schools can reserve a cart for projects lasting a term’s duration.

One of Schrock’s resources is the Foundation Center’s Foundation Directory, which lists private and corporate foundation grants by topic. She aligns the grant topics with upcoming technology initiatives.

Charlotte County Public Schools, an 18,000-student district in Port Charlotte, Fla., is using $300,000 in E-Rate funds to upgrade its wireless network this summer. When finished, the district’s Internet connections will run at double the current rate, while wireless wide area network links between the schools and a network backbone will triple in speed.

The school pays a grant writing consultant to keep pace with the paperwork and rules required by E-Rate. “They’re experts in the E-Rate law, so they can tell us what’s eligible and what isn’t,” says Chris Bress, the district’s director of learning through technology. “That’s important because many times schools try to fund projects that aren’t eligible or spend time applying for something that has a low chance of being approved.”

Bond Market

No matter what the budgetary climate is for federal grants, many schools still see the bulk of their technology funds coming from the taxpayers in their local district. With this in mind, some schools float technology-specific bonds.

In 1999, Kiel voters approved a bond referendum that included $1 million for technology infrastructure, such as fiber networking. They also approved about $110,000 over 10 years for IT support and upgrades.

The Mankato Area Public Schools system in Minnesota is considering a seven-year bond referendum for technology projects. “We’re looking to equip all of our classrooms with multimedia equipment,” reports Doug Johnson, the director of media and technology. Mankato is also eyeing more technology training for teachers, as well as wireless computer labs.

A majority of voters said they’d support a technology bond issue, but, if the state legislature decides to increase property taxes to pay for schools, the school board will probably not ask taxpayers to approve additional money for technology.

“Education is a zero-sum game,” Johnson explains. “If we spend more for computers, we may hire fewer classroom aides or delay replacing roofs. It’s a real balancing act.”

Follow the Money

The Foundation Center’s Foundation Directory lists 500,000 grants. (http://fdncenter.org)

International Society for Technology in Education lists federal and private grants. (www.iste.org)

Universal Service Administrative Co., which manages E-Rate, provides regulations, online applications, deadlines and news. (www.sl.universalservice.org)

U.S. Department of Education, Office of Educational Technology offers various tech-related grants. (www.ed.gov/about/offices/list/os/technology/edgrants.html)

A Call for Action: Ed Tech Funding Strategies

By Kurt A. Steinhaus

As we kick off the 2005-2006 school year, it’s time to put on a fresh pair of glasses—glasses that will help us identify new educational technology funding strategies for personal learning services, quality connections with parents and administrators, intelligent instruction and one-to-one computing.

To better see into the future, let’s look back at the instructional side of technology. During the 1970s, we advanced the idea of computer-assisted instruction—mostly by using mainframes. Research told us that courseware was an effective tool in the learning process.

The 1980s brought a wave of microcomputers. This was the decade of writing plans for integrating technology into the learning process. With plans in place and the promise of school reform driven by technology, state legislatures appropriated millions of dollars for technology.

During the 1990s, we learned about the effective use of technology in the classroom and worked to close the digital divide. We made a commitment that every student would be connected and have access to learning tools. We began to feel that technology was overpromised and underdelivered.

State and national leaders asked for proof that technology was having a measurable impact on student achievement. State funding for learning technologies declined, while federal funding for the Technology Literacy Challenge fund increased.

Now, a major federal cut in funding for instructional technology is looming—elimination of the Enhancing Education Through Technology fund. We have also seen a shift from technology funding for learning to an emphasis on the business of running schools—database systems, online assessment for accountability and tools for analyzing achievement data.

Even with this shift, I see signs that funding will be available for the instructional side of technology. First, the new U.S. Department of Education’s national technology plan says: “Over the next decade, the United States will face ever-increasing competition in the global economy. To an overwhelming extent, this competition will involve the mastery and application of new technologies in virtually every field of human endeavor.”

Second, attendance at state and national technology conferences is on the rise. Third, there’s a shift in planning for learning technologies. Rather than developing standalone or separate ed tech plans, schools are including the application of technology as part of a single strategic plan.

Fourth, Texas is leading the wave of state legislators looking at learning technology in a new way. Instead of talking about Web access and integrating technology, they are talking about effective e-learning and revitalizing the state education technology office.

The New Mexico legislature plans to establish and fund a high standard for teacher skills to include technology, network connectivity, hardware, software and professional development. In addition to ongoing funds in the Technology for Education Act, funds will be allocated to help every school meet or exceed standards for e-learning, quality teacher support and meeting Gov. Bill Richardson’s goal for one-to-one computing.

In the 1990s, state legislatures led the way and the federal government followed. A similar trend is emerging. But, an essential piece of the puzzle involves students, teachers, administrators and other education leaders.

Legislators, superintendents and principals need to be invited into the classroom—many times. During the visits, students can explain how technology changed their lives or motivated them to stay in school. Teachers can present data about the impact of technology in meeting the state standards.

One of our strengths as educators is that we know about learning styles. Let’s build on this strength to help decision-makers learn about personal learning services, quality connections with parents and administrators, intelligent instruction and realizing the promise of one-to-one computing.

This is a call for action. Now, more than ever, we need to communicate to decision-makers the importance of funding for learning technologies.

Alan Joch is a New Hampshire-based business and technology writer.

Kurt A. Steinhaus is the deputy cabinet secretary of education, Office of the Governor, New Mexico, and the president of the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE).