Technology Programs In and Out Of Ed. Dept. Take Big Hit in Budget
Initiatives intended to improve teachers' skills in the use of technology and to bridge the "digital divide" would be cut under President Bush's proposed fiscal 2003 budget.
The president's budget plan, released Feb. 4, would eliminate a $62.5 million effort for preparing teachers in the use of technology. States could still use federal funds to hone teachers' technology skills, but the money would have to be drawn from a state block grant totaling $700 million that covers many different technology programs. That grant program, however, would keep the same funding level as in fiscal 2002.
"Considering the current economic climate for so many states, the shortfalls they're already experiencing, taking away something like teacher technology training and putting it into a block grant isn't going to help," said Denise Cardinal, a spokeswoman for the National Education Association.
The Bush proposal would also slice $32.5 million from the Department of Education's budget for community technology centers—small, community-based groups that provide Internet-connected computers, software, and training to low-income individuals, including many students who could not afford them otherwise.
The other digital-divide enterprise in jeopardy is the Technology Opportunities Program within the Department of Commerce. TOP combines federal money with other sources to establish model programs for self- sustaining technology projects, such as giving inner-city communities access to computers and the Internet. Two years ago, the program received $42.8 million, an amount Mr. Bush and Congress slashed to $15 million for the current fiscal year.
President Bush's proposed budget also would scrap funding for the 10 Regional Technology in Education Consortia, a venture that provides technical assistance and workshops to help states, school districts, and K-12 educators integrate technologies into classrooms and other educational settings.
Another budgetary casualty would be the $27.5 million federal "Star Schools" program, which supports model projects providing distance learning to students in geographically isolated communities.
While the Bush proposal puts the technology efforts on the defensive, they still may survive when Congress finishes appropriating money for the fiscal year that starts next Oct. 1.
Norris Dickard, a senior policy analyst at the Benton Foundation, a philanthropy based in Washington, and a former member of the Clinton administration, said many of those endeavors have strong advocates in Congress and may yet survive.
"The administration requested zero [for the community- technology-center grants] last year, but the Congress prevailed, though the budget was cut in half," he said. "Essentially, we are where we were last year, but this time, we have fiscal pressure, unlike last year."
Some other education programs in a variety of federal agencies would fare better under the president's budget.
At the National Science Foundation, K-12 projects would get about an 11 percent increase. The independent agency's new attempt to link districts with higher education to improve math and science instruction would get a $40 million boost, raising that program's spending to $200 million.
At the National Endowment for the Arts, education programs would receive $11.3 million of the agency's $117 million. The arts endowment sponsors a variety of education initiatives, including in-school arts projects and artist-in-residence programs.
The education agenda of the National Endowment for the Humanities would get $12.6 million—the same as in the current year. The NEH's projects include summer institutes in which hundreds of teachers study with experts in the field, both here and abroad.
In addition, the administration's budget requests $522.8 million for the Bureau of Indian Affairs, an arm of the Department of the Interior, to operate its 185 schools. That represents an increase of $18.8 million, or 3.7 percent,over the current year.
The budget proposal includes a separate request for $292.7 million in construction and repair funds for BIA schools.
Meanwhile, the Department of Labor's proposed 2003 budget calls for a net increase of $73 million for the Job Corps, which since 1964 has been a centerpiece of the federal government's efforts to help disadvantaged youths ages 16 to 24 improve their academic skills and find work.
The money would support an estimated 73,000 participants at 122 Job Corps centers. The plan includes $29 million to increase teacher salaries, $16 million for more slots at newly opened centers, and $4 million to provide high school accreditation at all centers.
Assistant Editors Kathleen Kennedy Manzo and Mary Ann Zehr and Staff Writer John Gehring contributed to this report.
Vol. 21, Issue 22, Page 33