With the mammoth budget deficit finally under control, Gov. Tim Pawlenty is calling on the legislature to fund a variety of K-12 technology initiatives in his fiscal 2006 budget.
The $4.5 billion deficit that Pawlenty inherited when he took office in 2003, out of a total budget of $13.9 billion, has limited technology funding for the past several years. His proposals for 2006 include nearly $8 million in increases for state technology programs over the 2005 budget.
The governor, a Republican, is once again asking lawmakers to help school districts with technology costs by approving $4.5 million for the Equity in Telecommunications Access program, which would provide schools with the money for telecommunications access, Internet connections, and videoconferencing technologies needed for distance learning.
Pawlenty had requested $4.5 million from the legislature to pay for the program for fiscal 2005, but the initiative failed to pass. A previous telecommunications program that allocated $19 million to schools was not funded for 2003 and beyond because of Minnesota’s budget troubles.
The Online Learning Option program in schools would also benefit from the governor’s budget proposals. The state spends $1.25 million per year to offer full-time online learning to 240 secondary students, mostly transfer and home-schooled students, who were not enrolled in Minnesota schools the previous year.
Pawlenty is recommending that the legislature increase funding for the online program by $1 million in his 2006 budget and an additional $1 million in 2007. If approved, the money would allow an additional 190 full-time students to be enrolled in fiscal 2006 and 380 in 2007.
New science assessments—for 5thand 8th graders and high school students who have completed biology—are to be administered statewide during the 2007-08 school year, and the governor wants the legislature to budget $1.2 million for each of the next two fiscal years to make the tests computerized.
The state department of education is beginning to look at Minnesota schools’ readiness for computer-based testing, says Mary Mehsikomer, the project planner senior in the department. To help make that determination, the office of educational accountability at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities is conducting a study on the costs associated with using computerized tests, and it is required to deliver its findings to the education committees of the legislature no later than June 15 of this year.
The state reviews and certifies online learning program proposals submitted by school districts and charter schools, some of which serve students statewide. But the state has not created its own virtual school.