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Education Dept. Offers Up Good News, Bad News on EETT Funds

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The United States Department of Education could make all $650 million of the EETT stimulus package funds available to states by July 1 rather than in the fall, according to information revealed at a Washington, DC meeting held last week for state education technology directors. Further, states may have the choice of distributing 100 percent of these funds via competitive grants or splitting funds between competitive and Title I formula grants.

The mood among attendees at the was almost euphoric as representative after representative from the Education Department impressed upon state ed tech directors and state data coordinators that the Obama administration was listening and that the department was flexible.

“State directors are thrilled to see these proposed changes,” said Mary Ann Wolf, executive director of the State Educational Technology Directors Association (SETDA). “The department really heard our concerns, and they understand that these changes are in the best interest of states and kids. It is great to work together with the department to ensure these funds are used effectively and efficiently.”

While various divisions within the department and the administration still need to sign off on these changes to initial policy announcements, sources indicate that they are likely to happen. Unfortunately, the week ended on a more disappointing note for state technology directors, as the administration announced its budget proposal for next fiscal year.

Here is a rundown of all that's afoot with EETT funds.

Faster Distribution of EETT ARRA Funds
The release of the $650 million of ed tech funds made available through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), previously slated for the fall, is likely to be moved up so distribution of monies to states will occur July 1. The $650 million of EETT ARRA funds coupled with $269 "regular, budgeted" funds creates an unprecedented $919 million for EETT, to be distributed by states, about a half dozen of which already have their RFAs on the street for districts to begin generating applications. Most states will have their applications ready to distribute to schools by July 1.

Virtually all state directors have a sense about what they will be emphasizing in the applications they will send to schools. While all states will require at least 25 percent of monies be spent on professional development (as the law requires), others will focus completely on professional development. Numerous other states will be taking a comprehensive approach they are dubbing "21st century classrooms," an approach that is based, in part, on past successful models, such as Texas' Technology Immersion Pilot (TIP) program and the eMINTS program (now in 10 states). This approach calls for at least a 2:1 student to computer ratio, an interactive whiteboard, projection devices, digital content, and other technologies. Professional development, often in the form of technology coaches, will be a part of the 21st century classroom approach as well.

Flexibility Available to States for Distribution of EETT ARRA Funds
States may have the option to distribute a larger percentage of funds toward competitive grants to schools (rather than split between Title I schools and competitive grants). Last year 16 states took this option, most of which allocated 100 percent of funds to competitive grants.

This year there will likely be more states exercising this flexibility, based on discussions at the Washington, DC meeting. State ed tech directors prefer this option because, they said, they are more likely to be sure that the districts receiving the money spend it the way it is intended, rather than seeing funds absorbed into other Title I efforts, which often happens with the competitive/formula split method. However, there has been a significant push in states and some districts for ed tech and Title I directors to work together to try to avoid this (see "Sleepless in Washington"). In addition, SETDA is working with the National Association of State Title I Directors to create some common documents, and they have held joint conference calls in an effort to help break down silos.

Big Proposed Cut in FY 2010 EETT Funds
A blow to technology advocates ended the week, however, when the president's proposed budget was released, revealing just $100 million in EETT funds. While staff in the administration, including some close to Secretary Duncan, are saying that EETT has more funding than ever when one considers the $650 million in ARRA, advocates for technology are concerned about the perception of cuts, particularly following four years of cuts under the Bush administration, during which tech advocates had to fight for funding. Congress, which is used to restoring slashed EETT funds, still has to act, and Sen. Jeff Bingaman from New Mexico and Sen. Patty Murray of Washington already have issued statements noting their concern about the cuts.

About the Author

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

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