Subsidizing schools’ links to a statewide telecommunications backbone now consumes the lion’s share of Wisconsin’s educational technology budget, even as the state has moved forward with major changes in how it collects and manages data from its public schools.
Wisconsin recently began rolling out a new integrated network for transmitting data and video that represents a major upgrade of its existing system for sending those two types of information over the Internet via separate communications lines.
The state has subsidized school districts’ links to such lines since 1998, and will continue doing so for the new system, called BadgerNet II. For the 2004-05 school year, the state has spent $16.5 million on those subsidies, a figure that has risen only slightly in recent years. Officials expect the number to edge up to around $17 million for the 2005-06 school year. Funding for the subsidies come from a statewide tax on consumers’ telephone bills.
Additional state money, totaling about $1.9 million this school year, also will help districts connect to BadgerLink, a statewide resource for magazines, newspapers, and databases.
Wisconsin’s spending on school technology has shrunk significantly in recent years. Two years ago, the state eliminated its Technology Education Achievement—or TEACH—agency, a victim of bad budget times.
With it went annual block grants to districts for computer hardware, software, and consulting services, to the tune of $35 million annually. Also axed was a $4 million-a-year grant program that helped districts train their teachers in using the new technology.
Now, with the advent of the federal No Child Left Behind Act, emerging priorities for Wisconsin are modifications to its systems for collecting and managing data on student achievement and demographics.
Just this past winter, the state cranked up a new system that assigns each public school student a separate identification number, called the Wisconsin Student Number Locator. It also launched the Individual Student Enrollment System, which enables districts to submit data electronically in ways that will facilitate the state’s compliance with the reporting requirements of the federal law.