The final $787 billion stimulus bill that President Obama is expected to sign today contains $105.9 billion for education, including $650 million for the federal Enhancing Education Through Technology (EETT) program.
Although encouraged by an increase of more than double its current funding level, ed-tech advocates said they were disappointed EETT did not receive the $1 billion it was slated to receive in earlier drafts of the package. In past years, EETT has been repeatedly targeted for cuts.
"The funding provides a much-needed down payment toward meeting President Obama’s vision that all students receive the benefits of 21st-century learning environments, but the final level of investment falls short of funding in the House and Senate bills, and far short of what is needed by our students to compete in today’s digital age," read a statement from the International Society for Technology in Education and the Consortium for School Networking.
The two groups noted President Obama’s commitment to education, and urged Congress to increase ed-tech funding levels in FY09 and FY10. An estimated $9.9 billion total investment is needed to ensure that all Title I schools have effective, technology-rich classrooms, according to the groups.
The EETT funding in the stimulus bill "will provide critical support to states, districts, and schools to respond to warnings from the business community that students are not being prepared for the intellectual demands of the modern workplace," said Mary Ann Wolf, executive director of the State Educational Technology Directors Association.
"Schools are ready, willing, and able to make technology a critical component of education, so that education focuses on what students need to learn and how students need to learn to compete in the modern workforce… For a wireless nation that relies on technology for ordinary tasks and extraordinary achievements, it is time for technology to occupy a prominent place in education operations."
The stimulus package will help essential funding find its way to schools in the midst of budget deficits and "will help cash-strapped school districts avoid program cuts, prevent teacher layoffs, invest in school modernization and increase funding for Title I, special education, and other important programs," said a statement from the American Association of School Administrators.
Acknowledging that the bill does lack some key funding areas that educators enthusiastically supported, the administrators’ group said that while the bill "does not include the level of funding for school construction included in the House version of the bill," it is still a solid step in the right direction.
"This is a solid recognition by Congress that the road to economic recovery runs through our classrooms," National Education Association President Dennis Van Roekel said in a Feb. 13 statement.
Echoing the thoughts of other education groups, Van Roekel noted that many improvements are left to be made in U.S. education, but said that "the injection of federal funds will help children learn, modernize schools and labs, keep schools and libraries open, help educators keep their jobs, and provide students with 21st-century environments."
"This bill recognizes the pivotal role that education plays in our economy’s long-term vitality, and supports education in a way that will strengthen learning opportunities for children," said Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers.
"Passing the recovery bill is merely the first step. The next step is to ensure the funds are invested wisely," she said.
States will receive $53.6 billion for fiscal stabilization, which includes $39.5 billion for school districts, colleges, and universities to pay for initiatives such as school modernization. It also includes $8.8 billion to states for high priority needs such as public safety and other critical services, which may include K-12 and higher education modernization.
States will use that $39.5 billion to fill cuts that have been made in K-12 and higher ed. After filling those cuts, remaining funds will be distributed based on current Title I funding formulas.
Title I will receive $13 billion, and $12.2 billion is allocated for special education, pushing the federal share of special education services to its highest level ever.
As part of the stabilization fund, Education Secretary Arne Duncan will direct a $5 billion incentive fund, which includes $650 million for innovation grants that will go to local school districts or nonprofit groups.
The stimulus package includes $7 billion to expand broadband access to rural areas.
The argument over school modernization funds, easily one of the biggest disagreements in the bill, pitted House Democrats against Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, a key broker in the deal that allowed the bill to move forward in the Senate. A top aide to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said Feb. 12 that the matter was resolved quickly. A Senate official close to the talks concurred, requiring anonymity to speak frankly about the topic.
Pelosi herself was involved in a continuing disagreement over the use of federal funds for school modernization–the issue that caused her to withhold support from the compromise on Feb. 11 for more than two hours after key senators had announced it.
Due to the insistence of Senate Republican moderates, an attempt by House Democrats to create a new federal program for school construction was scrapped in final negotiations. As a compromise, about $10 billion was added to a fund that will provide funds for hard-pressed states, money that governors will be allowed to use for repairing existing schools.
But Democrats wanted assurances that the states would allocate the money according to need, rather than at a governor’s sole discretion, leading to renewed negotiations.
While education receives much-needed funding, House Democrats remained upset that $20 billion in school construction funds had been eliminated.
Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.