$1 Billion Federal 'Enhancing Education Through Tech' Bill Introduced

Senator Tammy BaldwinThe United States Senate will once again be forced to consider explicit funding of education technology. Taking up the mantle left by former lawmakers, U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) has introduced legislation that would reactivate the Enhancing Education Through Technology (EETT) Act, a move that has generated numerous statements of support among education organizations.

EETT legislation has come up for consideration several times since the Act was defunded in 2011. The act is also being championed by Patty Murray (D-WA) and Senator Angus King (I-ME), Baldwin's fellow members on the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP). Murray is the ranking member of that committee.

The legislation would authorize a billion dollars starting in fiscal year 2016 and continuing in some amount for four years to provide funding to state educational agencies that could be issued to districts and schools for the purpose of promoting the use of technology for student learning. The program would be managed by the Department of Education, as was the version of the Act originally passed in 2001.

As an explanatory statement from Baldwin's office explained, the Act would ensure that a certain portion of funding be dedicated to teacher training and other school leaders to help them "use technology to redesign courses, personalize instruction and increase student engagement." The bill encourages the use of data to "drive classroom and school practice" while still "protecting student privacy and ensuring data security."

Money would be made available to acquire "digital tools, devices and content" and support the work of technology coordinators in gaining "the skills and knowledge" they need to manage digital learning programs. The Act also gives a callout to rural and remote schools to put in place "the technology they need to shrink distances, enhance learning and prepare their students for the global workplace."

"Across the globe, students today experience a world that is more connected than ever. Yet in the United Sates, many classrooms, especially those in rural and remote areas, lack the rich technology that can connect them with the outside world," said Baldwin in a statement. "I'm proud to introduce the Enhancing Education Through Technology Act to level the playing field and give schools the resources, infrastructure, hardware, software and human capacity needed to prepare students for the 21st century global economy."

Last week 18 organizations and companies delivered a letter to HELP urging the committee to "include a dedicated digital learning program" in its latest draft of the "Every Child Ready for College and Career Act," legislation that hasn't made it out of committee since its first introduction in 2013. The latter is an update to the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965, which funds education in this country. According to the signatories on the letter, "Only a distinct commitment to supporting technology use in the classroom will ensure that all students, especially those in rural and remote areas, have access to the limitless educational opportunities available."

With the formal introduction of draft legislation, the support has continued, particularly from education entities in Baldwin's home state.

"Senator Baldwin's legislation recognizes that access to high-speed broadband and current computing devices is now as vital a component of K-12 school infrastructure as electricity, air conditioning, and heating," noted Dan Rossmiller, government relations director for the Wisconsin Association of School Boards.

"Providing all students with technology-rich learning environments in which they can collaborate, create and learn deeply is essential to creating citizens who can adapt and thrive in today's connected world," added Donna Smith, president of the Wisconsin Educational Media and Technology Association.

As negotiations begin on the reauthorization of ESEA, "It's critical to remember that Congress established the law 50 years ago to ensure educational equity. Today, that means digital equity," said Keith Krueger, CEO of the Consortium for School Networking. "With dedicated, sustained federal support for technology and related professional development, our schools will be better equipped to meet the demands of modern teaching and learning. In turn, disadvantaged students will benefit from the innovative instructional opportunities they need to prepare for postsecondary success and career advancement."

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.