Stimulus Package Signed into Law; What It Means for K-12 Education

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United States President Barack Obama signed into law the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, passed by the House and Senate Friday. The Act assigns significant funding to a variety of education and education-related programs, beefing up educational technology, broadband, and teacher professional development and providing funds that can be used for school modernization.

Speaking in Denver, CO Tuesday afternoon at the signing ceremony for the legislation, President Obama focused primarily on energy and jobs, but he also touched on the benefits of the stimulus package for education.

"The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act ... is the most sweeping economic recovery package in our history," President Obama said. "What makes this recovery plan so important is not just that it will create or save three and a half million jobs over the next two years, including 60,000-plus here in Colorado, it's that we're putting Americans to work doing the work that needs doing in critical areas that have been neglected for too long--work that will bring real and lasting change for generations to come--because we know we can't build our economic future on the transportation and information networks of the past. We are remaking the American landscape with the largest new investment in our nation's infrastructure since Eisenhower build an interstate highway system in the 1950s."

"Because we know America can't outcompete the world tomorrow if our children are being out-educated today, we're making the largest investment in education in our nation's history," he said. "It's an investment that will create jobs building 21st century classrooms and libraries and labs for millions of children across America. It'll provide funds to train a new generation of math and science teachers, while giving aid to states and school districts to stop teachers from being laid off and education programs from being cut."

He continued: "In a place like New York City, 14,000 teachers who were set to be let go may now be able to continue pursuing their critical mission. This is an investment that will create a new $2,500 annual tax credit to put the dream of a college degree within reach for million students, helping more of our sons and daughters aim higher, reach further, and fulfill their God-given potential."

Enhancing Education Through Technology
In the final iteration of the stimulus package, signed into law Tuesday, 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.

"The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act recognizes that technology in our schools can be a powerful accelerator of change by spurring innovation, creating jobs, and giving our children the opportunity to gain the knowledge and skills that will allow them to take their place in the world economy as winners, not runners-up," said Mary Ann Wolf, executive director of the State Educational Technology Directors Association (SETDA) in an e-mail just prior to the final signing of the Act. "SETDA is appreciative of the stimulus bill's commitment to the Enhancing Education Through Technology program. This will provide critical support to states, districts, and schools to respond to warnings from the business community that students are not being prepared for the intellectual demands of the modern workplace. Schools are ready, willing and able to make technology a critical component of education, so that education focuses on what students need to learn and how students need to learn to compete in the modern workforce."

She continued: "Right now, use of technology among Americans is widespread: 100 million Americans have broadband access, more than 200 million Americans use cell phones, and the personal computer penetration rate is 73 percent. For a wireless nation that relies on technology for ordinary tasks and extraordinary achievements, it is time for technology to occupy a prominent place in education operations."

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."

The Software & Information Industry Association (SIIA) issued a statement Tuesday following a similar theme, calling continued investment in education technology.

"President Obama and Congressional leaders called for educational innovation and 21st century learning for all students as part of the Recovery Act, and technology is critical to that goal," said Mark Schneiderman, SIIA director of education policy, in a statement released Tuesday. "We are pleased that funding for classroom technology was included, though we are disappointed that EETT funding was reduced from earlier versions of the legislation. We call on policy-makers to make necessary further investments in the upcoming annual education appropriations, as well as on educators to leverage Recovery Act, and other funds, to modernize teaching and learning through technology."

As with CoSN and ISTE, SIIA said it estimates "a cost of $9.9 billion to provide all of the nation's disadvantaged Title I students with technology-rich classrooms (e.g., well-equipped with computer hardware, software, digital and online curricular resources, and its teachers provided with professional development and support)," according to information released by the organization today.

"This investment is a critical down-payment to laying the nation's 21st century economic recovery path through an innovative educational system with modernized classrooms, curriculum and instruction," said Ken Wasch, SIIA president. "These funds will not only boost the education and technology sectors today, but also help provide our students with the knowledge and skills to compete globally in the technology-rich, knowledge economy. We look to policy makers to make further investments in modernizing our classrooms through technology."

Additional Education Funding Details
There were ups and downs in other areas of education funding as well, including school construction funding, also known as school modernization. Some of the more significant K-12 education funding highlights from the newly enacted 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.

An education fact sheet was released by the White House today. It can be found here in PDF format.

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."

The final text of the stimulus package can be found here.

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