Ill., Miss, N.M. Get 1st Grants From New Pot of Technology Funds

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New federal money for school technology has started rolling out to the states, with Illinois, Mississippi, and New Mexico being the first to tap into the $200 million fund, Vice President Al Gore announced early this month during President Clinton's radio show.

The three states were awarded a total of $14.3 million, which they will dole out to school districts this year after a competitive proposal process. Grants to the rest of the states are expected to be announced weekly through the end of next month.

A pet project of Mr. Clinton's, the U.S. Department of Education's Technology Literacy Challenge grant was first funded by Congress last fall. Mr. Clinton has asked for $425 million for the program for next year and has set a five-year funding goal of $2 billion.

The grants will be used to equip classrooms with computers, link schools to the Internet, and train teachers in new information technologies, Mr. Gore said.

Before the grant announcement, Mr. Clinton released new government data showing that the percentage of schools connected to the Internet has nearly doubled since 1994, to 65 percent of schools. The percentage of classrooms, computers labs, and media centers connected to the global computer network has quadrupled since 1994, to 14 percent.

"But the vast majority [of classrooms] still do not have access," Mr. Clinton said.

Education officials in the three states awarded grants said their state technology plans matched closely the administration's broad goals for school technology. Now each state will set further criteria, within the federal guidelines, for awarding money to its districts.

Down to the Districts

Cheryl Lemke, the associate superintendent for learning technology in the Illinois education department, said the state plans to divide the $9.1 million it received into two parts.

One part will go to districts that propose collaborative projects with community groups, such as public libraries, museums, businesses, or colleges. An example, she said, would be a video-conferencing system that could allow students in a classroom to view artifacts at a museum and to interview the curators.

The other part will go to districts that apply jointly--for example, if several districts in an isolated region wanted to create a wireless electronic network together.

Helen Soule, the director of educational technology at the Mississippi education department, said her state expected to split its $3.5 million grant among about 30 of the state's 153 districts, in amounts ranging from $45,000 to $225,000.

Those funds, though limited, are enough to have an impact in a specific area of a district technology plan, Ms. Soule said.

She said that the state's requirements are not yet final but that district applications that "focus on students with the greatest need in terms of technology and in terms of socioeconomic status" will be favored.

Kurt Steinhaus, New Mexico's educational technology coordinator, said his state likely would distribute its $1.7 million grant to districts that propose collaborative projects and that have higher percentages of low-income children.

Other New Mexico priorities include providing Internet links for every classroom, video links for every school, high-quality software to help schools meet high academic standards, and professional development and long-term support for teachers.

The states plan to award grants to districts by midsummer so programs can be put in place next fall.

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