Multiple Stimulus Aid Streams Flow to Ed Tech
State education officials and local school districts are working to use technology money from the federal economic-stimulus package to develop initiatives that do everything from consolidate data systems to create high-quality digital content for school laptops.
But much of the $650 million in stimulus funding for Enhancing Education Through Technology—the federal government’s main educational technology program—has yet to trickle down to districts. Some schools instead are looking to other pots of money in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, the 2009 stimulus law, to shore up their technology investments more quickly.
A handful of programs that received money through the recovery act allow districts to get creative about how to pay for technology, said Douglas A. Levin, the executive director of the State Educational Technology Directors Association, based in Glen Burnie, Md.
“With a really clear vision of what it is we want to achieve,” he said, “there are some really innovative ideas we can make good on.”
The most direct shot of federal money for educational technology came in the form of the $650 million for the existing Enhancing Education Through Technology initiative, or EETT. Under that program, money typically flows to states through a formula based on numbers of students who qualify for the Title I program for disadvantaged students.
States typically have been permitted to divide about half the money among districts through the Title I formula and half through competitive grants—using at least 25 percent of the money for professional development. In recent years, the federal government has allowed states to award all the money through competitive grants if they so chose.
When the U.S. Department of Education issued stimulus-program guidance in July, federal officials encouraged states to use all of the money in competitive grants to districts; and 21 states have chosen to do so, said Mr. Levin.
Many states are still going through the grant process and have not allocated the funds, even though the money must be obligated by Sept. 30, 2011. According to a Jan. 15 report from the Education Department, only about $25.4 million of the money has actually been spent.
But many states are well on their way to determining which districts will receive the money.
Maine, for instance, is giving out half its EETT stimulus dollars by formula and the other half to two projects awarded through competitive grants. The first project plays to the state’s extensive one-to-one laptop-computer initiative for students, said Jeff Mao, the Maine Department of Education’s director of learning-technology policy.
Maine is seeking districts to lead investigations into open education resources, or free digital content, in nine areas, such as mathematics, science, and social studies. Grantees will lead collaborative searches for and evaluations of free digital textbooks or curricula that can be used with the laptop initiative, Mr. Mao said. Participants will use a social-networking space to create communities to evaluate and cull those resources, he said.
The state is also seeking districts to create teacher professional development with new technologies and to track whether it significantly affects student achievement, he said.
“Hopefully, we can actually develop some good artifacts that are reusable,” Mr. Mao said. “We want to generate things … that can live well beyond the dollars and are not reliant on those funds.”
Michigan, which also split its stimulus money for technology between formula and competitive grants, is aiming to use its competitive funding to encourage regional data initiatives by districts, said Bruce Umpstead, the director of the state’s office of educational technology.
Several pots of federal economic-stimulus money are open to states and districts for educational technology.
DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION:
• $650 million for Enhancing Education Through Technology program (As of Jan. 15, the department reported that states had spent only $25.4 million of that money.)
• $250 million for statewide longitudinal-data systems
• Some money for technology available under the $13 billion in Title I stimulus aid
• Some money for technology available under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, which is receiving $11.3 billion in stimulus funding
DEPARTMENTS OF COMMERCE AND AGRICULTURE:
• $7.2 billion for programs to expand telecommunications, including broadband access, to rural areas
“It was a coup to get this money dedicated toward data because a lot of people don’t understand the importance of data-driven decisionmaking,” Mr. Umpstead said.
Maryland, too, is using part formula- and part competitive-grant funding.
“The competitive partnerships we’ve run have a more significant impact, rather than giving out bits of money to each little system,” said Jayne E. Moore, the director of instructional technology and school libraries at the Maryland Department of Education.
Ms. Moore said the state has three priority areas for competitive grants: open education resources; college and career readiness; and science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, or STEM, education.
Since much of the EETT money has yet to reach districts, some are looking for a technology boost from extra stimulus funding for programs such as Title I, which received $13 billion in total stimulus aid, and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, which received $11.3 billion.
“There was a big push for cross-program collaboration,” said Jenelle V. Leonard, the director of school support and technology programs in the federal Education Department’s office of elementary and secondary education. “We were asking states to think outside of the box.”
Ron Saunders, the superintendent of the 12,400-student Barrow County district in Winder, Ga., said his district tapped Title I stimulus money to buy 260 new computers and 56 interactive whiteboards for its schools, all designated as Title I schools.
“If we hadn’t had the stimulus money, … we would have been hurting,” Mr. Saunders said. “It gave us the opportunity to go in and make some purchases for technology we wouldn’t have been able to do otherwise.”
In the 18,000-student North Kansas City, Mo., district, officials are tapping both Title I and IDEA stimulus funding for a variety of needs, including whiteboards for early-childhood classrooms and adaptive technology for special education students, said Janet Herdman, the district’s executive director of information and technology services.
“We would not have been able to do it without the stimulus money,” she said.
Districts and states are looking at other areas of the stimulus package as well. One example: $250 million for the development of state systems for data-management and -warehousing systems under the existing federal program for statewide longitudinal-data systems. The money has not been allocated yet, but states’ applications are being evaluated, said Aimee Guidera, the executive director of the Washington-based Data Quality Campaign.
“They’re pounding the same thing over and over again: You have to use data to inform other reforms,” Ms. Guidera said of Education Department officials. “It’s not just data for data’s sake.”
Other pockets of stimulus money are also available for technology spending if districts get creative through programs within the Departments of Commerce and Agriculture that are intended to expand telecommunications, including broadband access, to rural areas.
Vol. 29, Issue 21MTR, Pages s6,s7