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Ky. Needs More Money for Technology, Panel Urges

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Kentucky's effort to equip classrooms and school administrative offices with personal computers has been plagued with problems and may not meet its objectives without more money, a legislative oversight panel has charged.

Unless the state provides additional funds for the project, already estimated to cost $560 million, Kentucky will not meets its goal of providing one computer for every six students, the report concludes.

The state is one of two in which auditors have recently criticized large-scale efforts to upgrade computer technology in schools. In New York, an audit found that the state spent millions of dollars to develop financial and record-keeping software for schools, yet most districts found they could buy better systems on the open market.

The criticisms in Kentucky center on the effort to bring computers to schools as required by the state's 1990 education-reform law.

The state education department, however, disagrees with many aspects of the legislative panel's report, saying it is inaccurate because it used outdated information. And although the department said in a response to the report that the project is proceeding rapidly, it acknowledged that "substantial additional funding" will be needed to meet the targets of the reform law.

Bob Wagoner, the director of finance for the Kentucky legislature's office of educational accountability, said the 1990 law's goal of one computer for every six students is currently unreachable.

The state has spent only $137 million to put new machines into classrooms, he said, instead of the $280 million that was projected to have been spent by this time.

"Two-thirds of the way through the project, we haven't put two-thirds of the $560 million into it," he said.

Without additional funding, he added, the state will at best achieve a ratio of one computer for every 10 students before costs are driven even higher by rising maintenance costs.

As soon as the project got under way, Mr. Wagoner said, legislators began to question the wisdom of a statewide system that would place large numbers of computers in classrooms and link all schools to the state education department in Frankfort. The criticism led to reduced funding for the project.

"The strongest point that we were trying to make," Mr. Wagoner said, "is that it was a very ambitious project that, right out of the gate, had some problems."

The report also questions whether funds for the project have been spent wisely. Mr. Wagoner noted that it is far from certain that local school districts would have been able to match state funds, as required by law, if the full amount had been appropriated by the legislature.

Unfulfilled Goals

In New York, meanwhile, an audit by state Comptroller Carl McCall found that the state spent $26.5 million to design computer systems that schools shunned because they could buy better systems elsewhere.

The state education department began its Technology Network Ties program a decade ago to create two computer systems for schools.

One would allow districts to automate financial and accounting functions and the other would be used to keep and report student data.

Although the state set a goal of having at least 350 of the states roughly 700 school districts adopt the two systems, only six were using the finance package as of September 1993, when the latest data were available.

Some districts said the state-developed systems were too complex. Others simply bought commercially produced systems that were cheaper, Mr. McCall's report said.

Although they conceded that there were delays and cost overruns in developing the software, officials of the education department contended that the glitches occurred because the legislature underfunded the program.

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