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 partnerships.
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 official said.
Despite the K-12 focus of these new programs, federal agencies do offer other technology programs open to colleges and universities. …