President-elect Barack Obama shed more light on his economic recovery plan in a Jan. 8 speech at Virginia’s George Mason University–and for education, the news is encouraging.
Equipping classrooms with modern technology to better prepare students for the jobs of the future is a key component of Obama’s stimulus plan. And though the proposed dollar amount for this portion of the plan remains unclear, a leading educational technology advocacy group says the funding to support it could be disbursed through the federal Enhancing Education Through Technology (EETT) block-grant program.
In the interest of making America "strong and competitive in the 21st century," Obama laid out his goals of doubling the production of alternative energy over three years, updating most federal buildings to improve their energy efficiency, making medical records electronic, expanding broadband networks, and modernizing schools and universities.
"To give our children the chance to live out their dreams in a world that’s never been more competitive, we will equip tens of thousands of schools, community colleges, and public universities with 21st-century classrooms, labs, and libraries. We’ll provide new computers, new technology, and new training for teachers so that students in Chicago and Boston can compete with kids in Beijing for the high-tech, high-wage jobs of the future," Obama said.
"To build an economy that can lead this future, we will begin to rebuild America. Yes, we’ll put people to work repairing crumbling roads, bridges, and schools by eliminating the backlog of well-planned, worthy, and needed infrastructure projects. But we’ll also do more to retrofit America for a global economy.
"That means updating the way we get our electricity by starting to build a new smart grid that will save us money, protect our power sources from blackout or attack, and deliver clean, alternative forms of energy to every corner of our nation. It means expanding broadband lines across America, so that a small business in a rural town can connect and compete with its counterparts anywhere in the world. And it means investing in the science, research, and technology that will lead to new medical breakthroughs, new discoveries, and entire new industries."
In his remarks, Obama did not say how much funding the stimulus package would include, but in an interview with CNBC on Jan. 7, the president-elect suggested that the total package could be between $800 billion and $1 trillion. (Tax cuts for the middle class are expected to account for some $300 billion of the total.)
Educational technology advocacy groups said they were pleased to hear the substance of Obama’s speech, and its reference to 21st-century classrooms in particular.
"We are excited to see modernizing schools and supporting world-class, future-focused education taking a prominent and immediate role in the new administration’s economic agenda," said Don Knezek, chief executive officer of the International Society for Technology in Education. "Focusing on schools and student-centered learning to ensure a competitive workforce … shows a sophisticated understanding by top federal leadership that we have desperately missed in recent years."
The Consortium for School Networking "wholeheartedly agrees with President-elect Obama that investing in educational technology through the forthcoming economic recovery package is essential to reenergizing America’s economy," said Keith Krueger, the group’s CEO.
"A significant infusion of federal dollars is needed to create technology-rich classrooms, adequately train pre-service and in-service educators to use and integrate technology into daily classroom activities, and connect all classroom computing devices via broadband. This investment will yield rich dividends: immediate job creation and today’s students prepared for tomorrow’s high-end jobs. We urge Congress to fully implement President-elect Obama’s bold vision for 21st-century learning."
In a letter sent to its members after Obama’s speech, the State Educational Technology Directors Association (SETDA) said it has been "working closely with the Obama-Biden transition team and responding to many questions regarding costs of implementing technology-rich classrooms, including the hardware, software, content, professional development, and IT support."
The letter continued: "We have also been able to share data and research on why this will [not only] stimulate the economy, but also accelerate transformation in schools."
According to SETDA’s calculations, it would cost about $11,695 to equip a single classroom with 21st-century technology. With an estimated 844,409 Title I-eligible classrooms that haven’t been fully equipped, that works out to a cost of about $9.9 billion to outfit all of the nation’s K-12 classrooms–or less than 2 percent of a stimulus package worth a total of $800 billion.
In his Jan. 8 speech, Obama warned of dire and lasting consequences if Congress doesn’t pump unprecedented dollars into the national economy.
"In short, a bad situation could become dramatically worse" if Washington doesn’t go far enough to address the spreading crisis, he said as fresh economic reports showed an outlook growing increasingly grim.
Since his November election, Obama has deferred to President George W. Bush on foreign policy matters such as the Middle East. But with the urgency of the economic crisis growing, Obama has waded deeply into domestic issues as he works to generate support for his plan to create jobs, jolt the economy, and make long-term investments to bolster the nation’s capacity to thrive in a 21st-century economy.
In his speech, Obama cast blame on "an era of profound irresponsibility that stretched from corporate boardrooms to the halls of power in Washington." But he added, "The very fact that this crisis is largely of our own making means that it is not beyond our ability to solve. Our problems are rooted in past mistakes, not our capacity for future greatness."
Obama asked Congress to work day, night, and on weekends if necessary to pass a revival plan within the next few weeks, so that it can be ready for his signature shortly after he takes office on Jan. 20.
"The time has come to build a 21st-century economy in which hard work and responsibility are once again rewarded," he said. "That’s why … I’m calling on all Americans–Democrats and Republicans–to put good ideas ahead of the old ideological battles; a sense of common purpose above the same narrow partisanship; and insist that the first question each of us asks isn’t ‘What’s good for me?’ but ‘What’s good for the country my children will inherit?’
"More than any program or policy, it is this spirit that will enable us to confront this challenge with the same spirit that has led previous generations to face down war, depression, and fear itself. And if we do … then I have no doubt that years from now, we will look back on 2009 as one of those years that marked another new and hopeful beginning for the United States of America."
(Editor’s note: To read the full text of Obama’s speech, click here.)
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