It may lack the fiscal health of America’s giant computer firms,
but the federal government has emerged recently as a central funding
source for schools and colleges to access educational technology.
While companies donate thousands of computers to schools each year,
seed money from the Education Department (ED) and other federal
agencies are building an infrastructure which will integrate technology
with traditional curricula. Such funding has increased steadily during
the Clinton administration, which made technology a priority in many
new programs such as Goals 2000 and school-to-work transition.
Congress also came on board in a big way last year by supporting a
Clinton plan to create state grants for educational technology. In
1997, the government will hand out $200 million to states, with a goal
of targeting low-income students and promoting Internet links. The
White House envisions a $2 billion initiative lasting about five years.
This program will “help meet the president’s goal of linking every
school to the information superhighway by the year 2000,” said
Education Secretary Richard Riley. “It would especially help link rural
and inner-city schools to a wide world of learning.”
States can spend money at their discretion but should promote four
general goals: to connect every school and class to the information
superhighway; to provide access to modern computers for all teachers
and students, to develop effective and engaging software; and to
provide teachers with appropriate training.
ED and Congress also reserved $57 million for challenge grants, in
which schools, colleges, universities and businesses develop
partnerships on new ways to link technology and learning. During the
past two years, challenge grants have funded forty-three such
Although they include colleges and universities, public elementary
and secondary schools remain the main focus of the challenge grants. In
fact, most new federal initiatives target public schools rather than
post-secondary institutions. The new dollars give top priority to
serving low-income youth.
Educators also won a victory last week when the Federal
Communications Commission (FCC) agreed to a special “e-rate” to link
schools and libraries to the Internet. Schools and public libraries
could get discounts of 20 percent to 90 percent on Internet links, with
savings of more than 52 billion. The FCC would pay for the discounts
through a special fund financed by contributions from major telephone
companies to help low-income and rural areas.
Again, however, the fund targets kindergarten through twelfth grade
(K-12) education and public libraries. Most colleges and universities
already have computer labs with Internet access, an FCC official said.
However, he acknowledged that groups such as community colleges had
sought inclusion in the “e-rate”, discussions.
“Congress’s mandate for us was to connect K-12 schools and
libraries. There wasn’t room in there for community colleges,” the
Despite the K-12 focus of these new programs, federal agencies do
offer other technology programs open to colleges and universities. Many
are housed at the National Science Foundation (NSF), while others are
scattered across government.
At NSF, recent grants include $950,000 to Tuskegee University to
modernize research facilities for computer science, chemistry and
physics. The grant is part of the agency’s Academic Research Facilities
NSF’s Resource Improvements for Minority Institutions program also
offers some technology-oriented grants. Meharry Medical College will
get a grant through 1999 under this program to enhance computer
applications in biological research.
Other NSF programs with a strong technology bent include the
Applications of Applied Technologies program, which supports new
applications of advanced technologies; and the Networking
Infrastructure for Education program, which funds consortia of colleges
and universities, school districts, state agencies and others to
integrate technology with education reform. For more information about
these programs, contact NSF at (703) 306-1651.
Other programs at federal agencies which support educational technology include:
Technology, Educational Media and Materials for Individuals with
Disabilities: Colleges and universities are eligible for this ED
program, which funds projects and centers on the use of new technology
and assistive technology on disabled students. Contact ED, Office of
Special Education and Rehabilitative Services, Division of Innovation
and Development, at (202) 205-8193.
Title I education: This mammoth $7 billion program supports about
one-third of all software and hardware used for basic skills
instruction in public schools. Contact ED at (202) 401-1576.
School-to-work transition: Together, ED and the Department of Labor
received 5400 million this year to integrate academic and technical
education through various means, including technology-based
applications. Contact the National School-to-Work Office, (202)
Goals 2000: States must integrate technology into their education reform programs. Contact ED at (202) 401-1576.
Agricultural Telecommunications Program, U.S. Department of
Agriculture (USDA): Land-grant institutions are among those eligible
for funding to improve the use of telecommunications in urban and rural
areas. Contact Cathy Birdwell at (202) 720-6084.
USDA Rural Utilities Service, Distance Learning Grant Program:
Educational institutions are among ninety winners of funds from 1993
through 1996 to promote the use of distance learning. Contact Rural
Economic and Community Development, USDA, (202) 720-1007.
Teacher Enhancement Program: Another NSF initiative, this one
targets teaching improvements in elementary and secondary education.
Contact NSF at (703) 306-1620.
National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH): The endowment funds
various activities, including development and demonstration grants,
which support software development and field testing; teach with
technology grants to develop materials and train teachers; and
challenge grants to improve their programs through various means,
including technology. Contact NEH at (202) 606-8309.
COPYRIGHT 1997 Cox, Matthews & Associates
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