Initially, education-technology proponents were hopeful that Congress would restore a dedicated federal funding stream when they reauthorized the country’s flagship education law.
Then, they decided they were happy enough with ed-tech being included as one of a handful of priorities in a $1.6 billion pot of money authorized under the Every Student Succeeds Act.
Things started to get dicey when Congress actually appropriated just $400 million of that total.
And on Tuesday, the bottom fell out, at least for the moment, when President Donald Trump unveiled a budget proposal that would eliminate Title IV, Part A altogether.
Trump’s proposal would “deal a body blow” to schools and mean “no dedicated investment for supporting teachers to personalize learning, teach computer science, or support high-quality online learning options,” according to a statement from Richard Culatta, the CEO of the International Society for Technology in Education.
Instead of investing in the technological “backbone of modern, engaging learning environments,” Trump’s budget “goes in the opposite direction, with irresponsible cuts,” added Keith Krueger, the CEO of the Consortium for School Networking, in a statement.
And so on.
All told, Trump’s budget proposes cutting $9 billion from the federal education department’s budget. That’s a 13.5 percent reduction compared to what the department spent this year. Much of the focus has been on proposals to zero out $2.1 billion in Title II funding (used to reduce class sizes and support teacher development); reduce funding for things like special education, after-school programs, and career and technical education; and dramatically expand federal support for school choice initiatives.
As for Title IV, Congress’s intent with ESSA was to create a big pot of money that all states and districts could use to support a number of priorities, from Advanced Placement to school safety to arts education. Technology was included in the mix; districts could choose to spend up to 60 percent of their Title IV dollars on technology, with no more than 15 percent of that going to infrastructure costs.
But when it came time to appropriate those dollars for the 2017 fiscal year, Congress approved just one-fourth of the authorized amount. Given all the things Title IV-A money was supposed to support, and all the schools in the country, that money would go quick. So for the coming school year, Congress changed the distribution method to a block grant, allowing to states to distribute the money based on a competitive process, instead of ensuring that all districts get something.
Doug Levin of consulting group EdTech Strategies is among those who never bought into the original excitement around Title IV—and who thus believes the current situation isn’t quite as dire as some make it out to be.
“The ed-tech authority in Title IV-A is quite modest, and I have been quite skeptical of its potential impact on technology-enabled innovation and school improvement,” even at full funding, Levin wrote in an email.
And for the past five fiscal years, Levin pointed out, there was no federal set-aside for ed-tech at all. So even this year’s $400 million “remains an increase and should be viewed in that light,” he wrote.
But will there be any money for Title IV after next school year?
Just because the Trump administration wants to get rid of this pot of money doesn’t mean it will actually happen, said Reg Leichty, a founder of Foresight Law + Policy, a Washington law and lobbying firm.
Removing Title IV funding altogether would run counter to Congress’s goal of enabling greater state and local decision-making, Leichty contended.
“This budget is not going to move through the Senate. There’s no way,” he said in an interview.
“You have to remember that Congress only passed ESSA 18 months ago, and there are members on both sides of the aisle who really believe in it.”
Leichty’s prediction? Congress eventually “level-funds” Title IV for the 2018 fiscal year, appropriating another $400 million or so to make sure at least something of the original idea survives.
In the meantime, said David DeSchryver, a senior vice president at Whiteboard Advisors, states and districts are going to have to turn out and explain to their representatives why this money matters.
He thinks it will happen.
“Many states and districts are now ‘woke,’ realizing that they need to tell their stories about how they’re using [Title IV-A] money effectively,” DeSchryver said in an interview.
“Ed-tech is the glue that holds everything together, but that story is not being well told.”
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A version of this news article first appeared in the Digital Education blog.