Bush Outlines Plan for Boosting Educational Technology Funding
Gov. George W. Bush of Texas has served up new additions this summer to his growing education platform, outlining initiatives for math, science, and technology education.
The presumptive Republican nominee for president proposed creating a flexible educational technology fund by consolidating $3 billion in money now set aside annually for the federal E-rate program—which provides discounts to schools and libraries on telecommunications services and related wiring projects—and eight Department of Education technology programs.
He also proposed spending $400 million over five years to support research on which methods of educational technology improve student achievement and creating a clearinghouse to provide schools with information on effective technology programs and best practices.
In unveiling the plan at a June 19 event in Vancouver, Wash., Gov. Bush said technology is an important tool but not a panacea.
"We can harness technology to help close the achievement gap, but technology alone cannot make children learn," he said. "Behind every wire and machine must be a teacher and a student who know how to use that technology to help develop a child's mind, skills, and character."
Days later, Mr. Bush issued another proposal to spend $400 million over five years for community technology centers in high-poverty areas.
His idea of combining the E-rate with other technology programs has caused some head scratching in the education community, since the education-rate money does not come out of the federal budget. Rather, the costs are levied on telecommunications companies (and ultimately, their customers) and sent to a special fund overseen by the Federal Communications Commission.
A Bush aide said the new program would be overseen by the Department of Education, but that much of the money would come as it does now from the E-rate's Universal Service Fund.
The Bush campaign has revealed some "naiveté" with the proposal, suggested Barbara Stein, a senior analyst for the National Education Association, which supports Mr. Bush's prospective Democratic opponent, Vice President Al Gore.
"The E-rate is a bipartisan effort" that has been highly successful in helping schools get Internet access, she said. "It's very dangerous to suggest cutting off the pipe and substituting something else."
Jano Cabrera, a spokesman for Mr. Gore, said the vice president was committed to making technology available to all students and to ensuring that teachers learn to use it effectively. Mr. Gore was a leading advocate for the creation of the E-rate program.
Noting Gov. Bush's emphasis on the teachers behind the technology, Mr. Cabrera argued that the vice president has a more comprehensive agenda to improve teacher quality. He pointed to Mr. Gore's plan to recruit 1 million high-quality teachers. The presumptive Democratic nominee would also require new teachers to pass rigorous assessments and require all teachers to be fully certified by 2004.
Gov. Bush has also outlined plans to spend $2.3 billion over five years on new mathematics and science initiatives.
In a proposal unveiled in Cupertino, Calif., June 20, he called for establishing a Math and Science Partnership Fund of $1 billion to help link states with colleges and universities as a way of strengthening K-12 education in those subjects. He also said the federal government should provide $1 billion for financial incentives for high school students to take advanced college-preparatory courses in math and science. Students who did would receive enhanced Pell Grants for college tuition.
In addition, the governor called for allocating $345 million to increase federal student-loan forgiveness for students who major in science, math, technology, or engineering and commit to teach in a high-need school for at least five years.
Gerald Wheeler, the executive director of the National Science Teachers Association, said he was encouraged by Gov. Bush's attention to math and science education. But he urged Mr. Bush to also focus on helping current math and science teachers, especially those new to the profession.
A recent poll found that voters were about evenly split over whether Gov. Bush or Vice President Gore would do a better job of improving schools.
However, the poll of 1,225 registered voters found that, among the respondents who viewed education as a top election priority, Mr. Gore led his GOP rival by 48 percent to 35 percent. The national survey, conducted in May by The Washington Post, the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, and Harvard University, has a margin of error of 2.5 percentage points.
The poll found that respondents were divided over the "trust" factor, depending on the specific issue. For example, more voters trusted Mr. Gore to improve public schools serving poor and disadvantaged students and to provide adequate federal funds for schools. But Mr. Bush was trusted more to address school violence, promote good character and values in schools, and hold schools accountable for improving student achievement.
—Erik W. Robelen
Vol. 19, Issue 42, Page 35