Originally published in MOREnetworking Vol. 2 No. 2, Jan. 2005
On May 5, 1998, I gave a luncheon address to the Greater St. Louis Technology Directors. I reread the notes from that occasion this afternoon and wondered how in the world we arrived where we are, here in 2005. My purpose in talking to those school people, who were dedicated to getting technology into every building and classroom in their area, was to encourage them about the vast amount of money that was available. In doing that, I began with the 1989 VIDEO Program (SB 709), the first state commitment to technology. It encouraged the purchase of satellite dishes, great hulking things, set in the front yards of schools around Missouri to access what was then mainly foreign language distance learning. At the time of my remarks, the VIDEO program had generated $32.5 million for Missouri schools, colleges and universities and public broadcast stations. And it was still going strong.
Furthermore, I bragged, in 1994-95 we received our first state money of $5 million, this time from Senate Bill 380, targeted to schools to begin purchasing hardware and software. A state program for technology acquisition in schools was underway. I went on to outline the flow of money. In 1995-96 we received $5 million and an additional $5 million of “one time” money. In 1996-97, $20 million was appropriated for distribution to schools. In 1997-98 there was $15 million approved in DESE’s core budget. So, between the years 1994 and 1998, the state provided $50 million for technology direct to schools plus $32.5 million from the VIDEO program. In 1998-99 DESE again had $15 million in its technology for schools portion of the budget and the Federal Government gave birth to the Federal Technology Literacy Challenge Fund (TLCF) that brought $7 million more Missouri’s way. So in 1998-99 Missouri had $3 million in VIDEO funds, $15 million in State technology funds and $7 million in TLCF money all going to schools. Those figures don’t include all the dollars of local funds that were matching the state and federal money. Not only that, but E-rate had just entered the picture. Life was good.
Anyone who has lived in Missouri for the past five years knows that I spoke the truth in my 1998 speech. There was lots of money for technology in schools and that continued to be true through the 2000-2001 school year. Then, through a series of revenue-influencing events, Missouri and other states fell into financial hard times. Without detailing the decline of available funds, let’s just say that by 2002 there were no funds from the VIDEO program and the money for grants from the state was no longer available. The TLCF program had run its course, and not so suddenly, the flow of technology money to schools had nearly stopped. Now, in 2004-05 the only funding being sent to schools through the Division of School Improvement at DESE comes from just over $8 million from the Federal Title II D fund. Recently we have received word that these funds will be cut by 28 percent. Looking back, that $50 million available between 1994 and 1998 seems far away indeed.
That said, let’s look at what the good times taught us. We know that technology is critical to student progress of every kind. We know that teacher training and technical and instructional support are the keys to successful use of this important tool, and we’ve learned to appreciate the power of limitless exploration it provides. As budget outlooks begin to recover at the local and state level, looking back at how we got here makes planning where to go from here easier. The past few years have been tough, but we are all smarter for having had the good times, the lean times and now the chance to use our experience to the benefit of children. Just as in 1994-95, the DESE budget has a request for $5 million for technology. It is a beginning, perhaps a chance, to rebuild a state program for technology in schools. We should all be planning in order to make the best possible use of funds when they become available.
Coordinator, State Programs
Department of Elementary and Secondary Education
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