ISTE GA Director Sees Positive Outlook for Ed Tech Funding Under Obama


During her session at FETC 2009 in Orlando, FL last Friday, Hillary Goldmann summed up her thoughts on the new Obama administration's understanding of the issues facing educators today with five simple words: "We know he gets it."

As director of government affairs for the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE), Goldman has spent the last several years lobbying for the adequate funding of education technology initiatives to a less than receptive audience. "We have been working for eight years," she said, "struggling to pass things into law, and now we have a President who talks about our issues, who embraces our issues.

"And not only is he talking about it," she continued, "but he is actually putting money behind it."

The money Goldmann was referring to is a $1 billion injection into the Enhancing Education Through Technology (EETT) program that is currently included in a house appropriations bill set to be released to the full floor in the coming week. According to Goldmann, under the bill's current structure, the money would be distributed incrementally, with half being made available by July of this year, and the remaining money released by July 2010. All of this, she said, is on top of current fiscal year 09 appropriations. In effect, if the bill were to pass, technology funding for FY 2009 would exceed $760 million, with an additional $500 million available for FY 2010.

"We have never seen this kind of money in this program before," said Goldmann. Not only is it significant in a time when other budgets are being cut, but, "What is also significant is that it's a dedicated funding stream for technology." Something educators, she said, desperately need.

In addition to the money dedicated to education technology, Goldmann pointed to $14 billion being allocated to school modernization, renovation, and repair and distributed based on Title I guidelines. While these funds aren't directed for technology per se, she said, there are provisions that allow for its use for things like networking and technology infrastructure improvements. "So it helps to be creative when you're thinking about ways to get funding for your programs."

Goldmann also touched on NCLB guidelines, saying that it isn't going away in the near term. "You're going to be living with it for a few more years," she said. And though the name will change to the Elementary/Secondary Education Act, it is very unlikely that we will see a new elementary or secondary education bill this year. "We are still working on individual components of it, but that is from a much smaller-picture perspective."

Other items addressed--albeit briefly--by Goldmann included the ATTAIN program, aimed at building on the strengths of the current EETT program while placing a stronger emphasis on professional development, as well as current discussions to raise the cap on federal E-rate funding.

In spite of the range of positive news coming out of Washington, Goldman reminded the audience throughout her talk that there is still a long road ahead. "Keep in mind," she cautioned, in terms of funding, "this is the House bill we are talking about. We still aren't sure what the Senate bill is going to look like, and all of these things are subject to change."

Goldmann cited several issues that may yet have an impact on the final shape of the bill, including two wars, significant challenges in healthcare and social security, and a range of economic unknowns that have yet be flushed out.
"And when fiscal restraint is shown," she said, "they're going to cut the programs that their constituents don't care about."

In order to carry more weight, Goldmann insisted, it is of critical importance educators make their voices heard in Washington. "Lobbyists don't have the power to make these changes alone," she said. "And representatives don't know that this is an important issue unless they hear from us."

According to Goldmann, there is a wide range of options educators and concerned citizens can pursue to get involved and make heir voices heard. From attending summits in Washington, DC to meeting with legislators in local districts to urging administrators and superintendents to write letters to congressional leaders. "The community needs to get involved to lend weight to these arguments."

Goldman closed by urging members of the audience to mobilize their communities to act and referred to the Ed Tech Action Network as an easy way for them to get involved. "There's a form on the Web site where users simply enter their zip code, receive a pre-formatted letter addressed to the appropriate representative, and click send. It's really that easy."

"In the end," she said, "the message, is that there is going to be money floating around ... and it is a huge win for us and a huge win for our community."