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Published in Print: January 20, 1999, as Technology Update

Technology Update

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GTE Is Lone Holdout in Legal Fight Against E-Rate Program: GTE Corp. is looking like a party spoiler these days to advocates of the federal E-rate program.

While SBC Telecommunications Inc. and BellSouth have dropped their legal challenge to the program, which subsidizes telecommunications services for public and private schools and libraries, GTE has not.

All three were among many companies that filed a lawsuit jointly against the Federal Communications Commission last year in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit, based in in New Orleans.

A critical issue in the suit concerns the implementation of universal-service fees, which are collected from telecommunications companies under the Telecommunications Act of 1996 to pay for the education rate along with some other programs.

BellSouth dropped out as one of the parties to the suit last month, and SBC recently pulled out of the portion that concerns the E-rate. GTE is now the only company still involved with the suit that is contesting the grounds for the E-rate program.

Universal service "was supposed to be explicit, sufficient, and fair. We don't think that was done," said Briana Gowing, a spokeswoman for GTE.

Ms. Gowing said the program is unfair because some companies that will gain business through the E-rate discounts are not required to pay into the E-rate fund.

The program is set to award $1.9 billion over 18 months; officials have committed $207 million so far in letters that have gone out to schools and libraries since November.

"It feels like the train has left the station, and the detractors are left standing on the platform," said Michelle Richards, the director of federal programs for the National School Boards Association in Alexandria, Va.

Electronic Lesson Plans: Kathy Schrock is keeping her day job, even though her management of an up-to-date Web site of lesson plans for educators has become much more than a hobby.

Kathy Schrock

Ms. Schrock, the district technology coordinator for the Dennis-Yarmouth Regional School District in South Yarmouth, Mass., signed a two-year contract last month with Discovery Channel Education to maintain her popular World Wide Web site--which she started in 1995 as a public service--as part of the Discovery Channel School Web site.

"She has a big following, which means an increase in traffic for us," said John Buffalo, a spokesman for Discovery Channel Education, a business unit of Discovery Communications Inc. in Bethesda, Md.

Signing on with company is another step in Ms. Schrock's creation of a new life for herself through the World Wide Web.

A year and a half ago, she started contracting with advertisers for her site, called Kathy Schrock's Guide for Educators. She's written one book and co-written two others about education technology and has landed frequent speaking engagements at meetings and conferences.

Ms. Schrock, who did not disclose the terms of her contract, said she still has complete editorial control over her site and is happy to forgo "beating the bushes for advertisers."

Kathy Schrock's Guide for Educators can now be found at discoveryschool.com/schrockguide/.

Challenge Grants: After a year of concentrating only on professional-development projects, the U.S. Department of Education's Technology Innovation Challenge Grants Program is returning to its original, broader scope for 1999.

"Last year was a uniquely different year in that we had an absolute priority coming from Congress--on professional development," explained Jenelle Leonard, the team leader and program manager for the challenge grants.

Because Congress did not provide a priority for this year, the program has shifted back to focusing on "bold new ideas and broad-based approaches to integrating technology into the curriculum," she said.

The program has changed since it began in 1995, when it focused on innovative ways to provide schools with a technology infrastructure, Ms. Leonard said. Now, the program emphasizes new uses for technology.

The department plans to give out a total of $22 million this year for 22 projects. The deadline for 1999 applications is March 12; awards will be announced by May 28.

The department received only 358 applications for the challenge-grants program last year, down from more than 500 in 1997.

Ms. Leonard attributed the decrease in applications to confusion about an added stipulation on involvement from state education agencies, not to the focus on professional development.

--Mary Ann Zehr mzehr@epe.org

Vol. 18, Issue 19, Page 8

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