A Conference Call to Arms

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The upcoming CoSN gathering arrives at a critical time for educators, who in the face of dwindling funds must continue their push for more technology in schools.

It comes as no surprise that, according to Webster’s dictionary, the words policy and politics derive from the Greek word for citizen (politicos), since it was Classical Greece that invented citizen politics. A unique opportunity to act like a Classical Greek citizen is coming March 5 through 8, at a variety of events surrounding and including the Consortium for School Networking (CoSN; www.cosn.org) conference in Washington, DC (www.k12schoolnetworking.org). To act classically Greek means to participate fully in our government, at least to the extent afforded us in a republic, as opposed to a Greek democracy.

Prior to the conference, a workshop brought together by EduStrategies (www.edustrategies.net) and CoSN will focus on an integrated approach to Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP). A high-level official from the US Department of Education is expected to speak, and school districts such as Broward County (FL) will offer case studies. In addition to the usual excellent program at the CoSN conference, there will be an Advocacy Day, featuring a Public Policy Boot Camp and an Issue Briefing presented by CoSN, the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE; www.iste.org), and the Software & Information Industry Association (SIIA; www.siia.net). Attendees will get tips on how best to make their case to members of Congress, as well as hear some suggested topics to address. These sessions will be followed by a trip to Capitol Hill, where in meetings arranged by Advocacy Day personnel, educators will have the opportunity to speak with senators and representatives from their state, along with the legislators’ staffs.

The importance of a continuing advocacy effort in support of technology cannot be stressed enough. While the amount of funds the federal government sets aside for education comes to less than 10 percent of all school expenditures, its share of technology spending is much higher because of the money it provides for the E-Rate and the Enhancing Education Through Technology (EETT) program. In many cases, federal money is the only dedicated technology money that districts receive beyond local revenues. As of this summer, 12 states did not provide districts with any dedicated funding for educational technology, while 81 percent of US districts receive EETT money.

A rundown of some of the most recent ed-tech news events illustrates the jeopardy federal funding is in, and should prompt even the most complacent educator to at least write a letter.

Appropriations bill. The appropriations bill for the Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education passed Congress and is expected to be signed by President Bush. The bill contains significant cuts in education, including a reduction in the EETT program. The final funding for EETT after these cuts and a 1 percent across-the-board cut from the defense appropriations bill comes to approximately $272 million. This clearly is better than the president’s proposal to eliminate the program completely, but it still constitutes a cut of approximately 45 percent from last year. And, incidentally, last year’s sum represented a 45 percent cut from the prior year. Advocacy efforts from CoSN, ISTE, the State Educational Technology Directors Association (SETDA), and industry representatives such as SIIA played a major role in getting the EETT program from zero dollars to its current $272 million. However, that could change next year unless you tell members of Congress how technology positively affects teaching and learning in your district. Go to www.edtechactionnetwork.org for more information.

The bill also includes a critical adjustment in how states can allocate funds under the EETT program. Prior to this change, states had to distribute 50 percent of EETT funds to Title 1 districts under the same formula that governs the distribution of Title 1 money. The other 50 percent had to be distributed via competitive grants. The appropriations bill puts the allocation of these funds totally at the states’ discretion. States can now distribute any percentage of EETT funds through competitive grants. Check with your state education department to find out how your district will be impacted.

A mesh network allows wireless access points to communicate with one another without routing traffic through a central switch. This creates self-healing networks: If one wireless access point goes dark, data is automatically diverted to the next nearest access point.

The E-Rate. Two pieces of legislation (not yet filed as of this writing) would revamp the Universal Service Fund (USF), which provides money for the E-Rate. One would keep the program and fix the part that caused delays in the distribution of money last year. However, that bill would also, according to CoSN, create two classes of service, with the E-Rate in the lower class and less likely to receive full funding. A second bill, not even released much less filed, would cap the USF at a substantially lower amount than its current ceiling and send the funds to states in block grants. According to those who have seen the bill, it also would not allow Universal Service Funds to be used to provide advanced services to schools and libraries. Again, providing information to members of Congress about the importance of the E-Rate and its impact on education could prove to be critical to the future of the program.

NCLB. The fourth anniversary of No Child Left Behind just passed. Lest we forget, while the president pushed for this law, it also was the result of a distinctly non-partisan effort in Congress. A primary concern of educators has been the lack of flexibility in the implementation of the law, manifested by a failure to take into account differences among states in their testing programs, accountability programs, special education students, etc. Since Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings was appointed less than a year ago, she has brought what she calls a “common sense” approach to carrying out the law. This has included new flexibility in a number of areas, including allowing pilots in 10 states to look at growth models to measure AYP. And now, as a result of the appropriations bill, we have more flexibility in the EETT program.

If this increased flexibility indicates that NCLB is going in the right direction, why should educators bother contacting Congress? The answer: 2007, the year the program is up for reauthorization. For those of you who are mathematically or calendarically challenged, 2007 arrives on the heels of the congressional elections of 2006. Educational organizations already are creating wish lists of changes to the law, and some key members of Congress are interested in hearing the public’s input as well. Historically, reauthorizations do not always happen in the year they are scheduled to. In this case, President Bush is likely to want the bill reauthorized before his term expires; expect a new president, no matter from what party, to try to put a personal stamp on such a key domestic-policy issue.

We in education technology need to create a systematic approach to generating a cohesive set of recommendations, so that our policy positions become an integral part of discussions as campaigns for the 2006 congressional elections start to crank up. There is no better place to start than by attending the Public Policy Boot Camp and Issue Briefing at the CoSN conference in March, and then contacting or visiting your senator or representative. Be a good citizen and a good educator.

Geoffrey H. Fletcher (gfletcher@101com.com) is the editor at large of this publication.

This article originally appeared in the 02/01/2006 issue of THE Journal.

About the Author

Geoffrey H. Fletcher is the deputy executive director of the State Educational Technology Directors Association (SETDA).

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