Follow the Money- Carefully


The stimulus package provides billions of dollars in new funding. Schools and states need a plan to pursue it.

Geoffrey H. FletcherTHE ECONOMIC STIMULUS PACKAGE introduced in Congress last month, called the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, has excellent news for the ed tech sector: $1 billion in funding for Title II-D (Enhancing Education Through Technology) of No Child Left Behind (NCLB) on top of the $275 million already available. Funds from other parts of the bill-- an added $14 billion to $16 billion for school modernization and repair; another $13 billion apiece for Title I and the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act-- could be used for technology purchases as well. Kudos to the Obama administration and members of Congress for realizing the importance of technology in education.

Although a final bill won't be ready until mid-February, I'm offering advice for school districts, states, and vendor partners to prepare for the imminent rush for money.

School districts: To put it plainly, don't just buy stuff. Review your technology plans and make sure that they are aligned with school and district goals, and that any technology purchases will support student achievement.

States: Look closely at your most recent request for proposal (RFP) for Title II-D funds, since it looks like technology money will continue to flow through that portion of NCLB. State IT directors, get your RFPs and processes ready to go.

Vendors: Look beyond this quarter and this year. Your livelihood depends on producing goods and services that answer the current demands of our market, but you also need to focus on giving schools what they'll need years down the line. Consider a recent editorial from New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman ("Cars, Kabul, and Banks, Dec. 13, 2008). Friedman was writing about the pending GM/Chrysler bailout, but his words ring true for the education market: "Over the years, Detroit bosses kept repeating: 'We have to make the cars people want.' That's why they're in trouble. Their job is to make the cars people don't know they want but will buy like crazy when they see them. I would have been happy with my Sony Walkman had Apple not invented the iPod. Now I can't live without my iPod. I didn't know I wanted it, but Apple did. Same with my Toyota hybrid."

Our schools cannot afford to have tools that are perfect for today but inadequate in a few years. We need vendors to deliver products that help educators see new possibilities. And all of us need to understand that the decisions we make-- much like the stimulus package-- will have consequences that will be with us for a long time.

-Geoffrey H. Fletcher, Editorial Director

This article originally appeared in the 02/01/2009 issue of THE Journal.