Senate Passes Stimulus Package; Ed Tech Mostly in Tact

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The United States Senate today followed the House of Representatives in passing the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 as modified in the Conference Report. Some funding impacting education has been scaled back in the latest version of the legislation, while others have been partially restored from previous iterations.

In the latest version of the stimulus package, now merely awaiting President Obama's signature for passage into law, funding for education technology was scaled back from what would have been a record high of about $1 billion down to $650 million. The new allocation is less than the $696 million funding level set back in 2004 but more than double the level set in recent years. The new funding, under the heading "School Improvement Programs," is being allocated to Title II, Part D of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 (ESEA), known as "Enhancing Education Through Technology." EETT has, to date, provided the sole federal funding for education technology under NCLB, and it has been the target of budget cuts for the last four years.

Despite the increase to EETT compared with recent budgets, two prominent education technology groups expressed "disappointment" in the final version of the bill. The Consortium for School Networking (CoSN) and the International Society for Technology Education issued a joint statement this afternoon, saying:

"We are deeply disappointed that funding to create technology-rich classrooms has been significantly scaled back in the compromise economic recovery 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.

"President Obama has repeatedly pledged to 'provide new computers, new technology, and new training for teachers' and requested Congress make an historic investment. Congress first met that request part-way by allocating $1 billion to the Enhancing Education through Technology (EETT) program in both the House and Senate passed versions of the Economic Recovery and Revitalization Act (H.R.1). But today's final conference report cuts that investment to $650 million, which represents a 35 [percent] reduction for investments in classroom technology.

"We urge Congress to use the upcoming FY09 and FY10 appropriations legislation to invest in education technology at levels that will help [effect] meaningful educational change."

The groups indicated that they believed $9.9 billion in total would be needed to "ensure that all Title I schools have effective, technology-rich classrooms."

Other significant K-12 education funding highlights from the latest stimulus package include:

  • $13 billion for Title 1 help for disadvantaged students;
  • $53.6 billion for the State Fiscal Stabilization Fund, which includes $39.5 billion for helping to stave off cutbacks or for school modernization, and $8.8 billion for "high priority needs such as public safety and other critical services, which may include education and for modernization, renovation and repairs of public school facilities and institutions of higher education facilities";
  • $12.2 billion for IDEA;
  • $7.2 billion for "broadband and wireless services in underserved areas" for business, healthcare, and education sectors;
  • $2.1 billion for Head Start and Early Head Start;
  • $250 million for competitive grants targeted toward the design and development of student achievement data analytics;
  • $70 million in grants for the education (among other things) of homeless kids;
  • $100 million for teacher workforce "modernization";
  • $130 million to support grants and loans for rural facilities, including education facilities; and
  • $200 million for, among other things, a national assessment of the value of "performance"-based compensation systems.

Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-HI), chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee and chairman of the conference committee that put together the final bill, in speaking in favor of the bill during debate, said: "It will allow us to invest in our future by rebuilding our roads, schools, and mass-transit systems. ... I know that the $311 billion in appropriated funds that are contained in this bill will make a difference as we confront the economic crisis. For example, the funds will prevent layoffs of state employees, will allow for increased funding for education, healthcare initiatives, improve energy efficiency, and many other vital initiatives."

The next step, he continued, is to ensure that each state has a "plan of action in place to ensure that these resources are invested quickly and responsibly and in the right places. In Hawaii, for example, we have established working groups of state and local officials and community leaders to identify priorities that will have the most effective and timely economic impact on local communities throughout the state."

Speaking at a press conference earlier Friday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) said: "It is a day for us to feel some sense of satisfaction that, working together under our new President, we were able to pass new legislation today that is transformational [in] what it will do to our economy. On the steps of the Capitol one week and one day before Congress acted the first time, the President inspired the nation with a message of hope that we would take the country in a new direction. We said we will harness the sun and the wind and the soil to fuel our cars and run our factories. And he went on to talk about 21st century education and investments in health and science ... and innovation to help make us competitive. These and other things were contained in his promise to America. One week and one day after that Congress passed a bill that did just that. And today we followed through with the Conference Report that, as the President requested, [delivers] swift, bold action."

A PDF of the scanned text of the stimulus package (the only version publicly available as of this writing) can be found here. "School Improvement" starts on page 168.

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