Nebraska education officials were hoping the legislature would come through with funding for plans to improve and coordinate distance learning throughout the state.
Two separate bills introduced in the 2005 legislative session called for allocating $10 million a year over the next few years toward the goals of connecting all distance-learning programs on a standard Internet-based network, and upgrading hardware and software, according to Michael J. Kozak, the interim director of the Nebraska Education Technology Center. The center is an arm of the state department of education.
One bill would establish a task force on distance education enhancement that would recommend how exactly to consolidate the system, currently a mixture of television-based and Internet-based programs, Kozak says.
Also, state education technology officials hope to build a universal network that all schools could be linked to, as well as being connected to state agencies and universities in Nebraska, a proposal that is part of both bills.
The other bill the legislature was considering would send $10 million a year to a School Technology Fund to carry out the initiatives already identified by the Nebraska Information Technology Commission. That plan would help put broadband Internet access in schools, create an Internet network to connect distance-learning and videoconferencing facilities, upgrade telecommunications equipment, and provide training and support programs for educators in the development and use of distance learning.
In the meantime, Nebraska is making strides in giving students laptop computers in some rural districts through the use of federal and local dollars. The one-to-one laptop initiative is under way in the Omaha, Westside, and Millard school districts, and supporters hope to expand the program to more rural districts.
Meanwhile, the Independent Study High School, a distance-learning program for high school students run by the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, had 2,200 students enrolled in its 54 courses for the 2004-05 school year. The students pay an average of $150 per course.
The state used $3.3 million in federal dollars for educational technology for the 2004-05 school year, a roughly $300,000 increase from the previous school year.