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Administration Assails Plan To Cut Technology Funds

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The Clinton Administration went on the offensive last week against Congressional budget-cutters who are targeting school-technology programs.

Administration officials argued that House Republicans' plans to slice $65 million from the Education Department's technology budget would keep computers and other electronic-learning tools out the hands of the nation's neediest students.

Addressing a department-sponsored technology conference here last week, Secretary of Education Richard W. Riley said the proposed cuts, which would come from money already appropriated for this fiscal year, were "severe, shortsighted, and made with apparently little thought as to who would suffer."

Mr. Riley argued that eliminating the targeted programs would exacerbate the gap between middle- and upper-class students, who frequently have access to computers and telecommunications, and poor students, who generally do not.

"The message from the House panel to poor students is clear: 'You can't get on the information superhighway,"' Mr. Riley said.

Earlier in the week, Vice President Gore and Mr. Riley visited the Forest Knolls Elementary School in Silver Spring, Md., to open a national competition for grants designed to encourage poor schools to form technology-related partnerships with industry.

The $27 million National Challenge Grant program, which would support technology initiatives in 20 low-income urban and rural school districts, is one of many programs that would be cut by the pending rescissions bill, which is expected to be debated on the House floor this week. (See Education Week, March 8, 1995.)

Mr. Gore said that the technology made available under the program would help children achieve the national education goals.

"So many of our schools use industrial-age tools and agricultural-age tools in the age of information, a blackboard and a piece of chalk when they could use a monitor and a mouse," the Vice President said.

High on Tech

The Administration has given school technology a high profile, embracing the idea of educational access to telecommunications networks as a national goal. In January, Mr. Gore challenged the telecommunications industry to help wire every classroom by the turn of the century. (See Education Week, Jan. 11, 1995.)

Mr. Riley also appointed Linda G. Roberts, a former official of the Congressional Office of Technology Assessment who headed two authoritative studies on classroom technology, as the department's first-ever technology adviser.

At last week's conference, Mr. Riley announced that later this year he will issue a long-range plan for technology use in the classroom, focusing on access and equity, planning and financing technology, professional development, and challenging content.

But aides to Republican lawmakers noted that, in recent years, many states have begun to set up extensive electronic networks on their own and have set aside money for technology and software purchases.

The proposed cuts would represent a 75 percent reduction in the department's education-technology budget.

In addition to the challenge grants, the rescissions bill would eliminate funding for the Star Schools distance-learning program, which received $30 million this year. It links roughly 200,000 students and 30,000 teachers in 25 states using satellites, fiber-optic cables, television, and computer networks, and Administration officials stressed that it allows students in some of the nation's poorest and most remote areas to take advanced courses.

The bill would also eliminate a $2.25 million "technology-based training" project, designed to help teachers in 15 states meet more challenging mathematics standards, and reduce funding for several other technology programs.

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