Lawmakers, Worried About Ky. Computer Plan, May Repeal Cap
Some Kentucky lawmakers are hoping to take advantage of an upcoming special session to repeal a recently enacted spending cap on consulting services that state officials argue is hampering development of the state's $400 million educational-computer network.
Sen. Ed Ford, the chairman of the Senate education committee, predicted last week that the legislature will abolish the $1 million annual cap on consulting fees paid by state agencies.
The state education department has estimated that it will cost at least $8.6 million over two years to get the school-technology project up to speed.
The cap, which was shepherded through the legislature by Speaker Pro Tem of the House Pete Worthington, was designed to rein in spending by the Digital Equipment Corporation, which the state chose as its consultant for the project.
Mr. Worthington, the chairman of the House education committee, has been a frequent and vocal critic of the way in which the technology initiative has been carried out. He argues that the money going to outside consulting services would be better spent on equipment for the schools.
If there have been delays, Mr. Worthington contends, they are due more to inefficiencies at the education department than to the effects of the fee cap.
"Keep in mind that the cap did not go into effect until July 1 of this year.'' he said. "We've had plenty of opportunities to get this thing on the road.''
He noted, for example, that funded positions at the state department to help implement the initiative remain unfilled.
The technology project, part of the state's 1990 education-reform measure, is designed to interconnect every classroom in the state electronically and to provide a networking link between districts and state administrative offices.
Standards Development Slowed
But at a joint hearing of the House and Senate education committees last month on the progress of the technology initiative, Commissioner of Education Thomas C. Boysen and other officials argued that the cap has had the effect of slowing the development of standards for the network and school computers.
Unless the standards are developed, they said, schools will not be able to tap into a $20 million state fund that will provide matching grants for equipment purchases.
"Local districts, with their own money, can buy whatever they want to buy, but in order to qualify for state matches [they] must meet state specifications, one of which is networkability,'' said Jim Parks, a spokesman for the department.
Mr. Parks added that the state School Facilities Construction Commission recently agreed to make the $20 million available to schools to purchase equipment. But while some districts already have begun purchasing their computers without state aid, others are reluctant to buy, fearing that they may purchase machines that will not be compatible with the networking standards that are eventually adopted.
Mr. Ford said that he raised the issue of delays in the public forum because of a widespread concern among lawmakers and the public that not enough progress is being made on implementing the technology plan.
While legislators conceded that some delays were inevitable in such a project, they said they were growing impatient with the pace of development.
"I still do not believe that we have moved as fast as I had originally hoped we would,'' Senator Ford said.
Boosting Public Support
Mr. Ford added that the technology initiative offers the state an unusual opportunity to spark sustained public support for reform.
"I've always felt that one way we could boost public confidence in educational reform is if they could see computers in use in the classroom and hear their children talking about computers in the home,'' he said.
Mr. Ford said legislators appear willing to consider modifying the
spending cap during the special session on health-care issues that Gov.
Brereton Jones is expected to call late this year or early in