Educational technology proponents said they are pleased that the U.S. Senate education committee has taken a significant step to deliver more technology to K-12 classrooms and professional development to support its use.
The committee unanimously approved the “I-TECH” amendment, one of 50 revisions that passed after the markup of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act rewrite on April 16. I-TECH stands for “Innovative Technology Expands Children’s Horizons,” and it would create a competitive grant for funding tech initiatives.
The bipartisan support for the amendment drew praise from the Consortium for School Networking (CoSN), which represents K-12 district technology officers, the State Educational Technology Directors Association (SETDA), and the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE), a nonprofit that supports the use of information technology in teaching and learning.
Keith Krueger, the CEO of CoSN, said the unanimous voice vote signaled a breakthrough. “It says to me that there’s agreement on both sides of the aisle that technology is at the heart of what learning looks like today and tomorrow,” he said.
The I-TECH program would allow successful grantees to provide professional development to heighten the ability of teachers and school leaders to use technology, and to improve the college- and career-readiness of students.
The Senate education committee’s action paves the way for a full U.S. Senate vote. However, there is no guarantee that passage of the sweeping education bill is a done deal.
That was made clear in a coverage by my Education Week colleague Lauren Camera. She predicts that fresh battles will arise when the full Senate takes up the ESEA rewrite. Besides, it could be difficult to even schedule the education bill, as other high-profile issues are competing for attention on the Senate’s agenda.
Still, the technology groups are optimistic about the particulars of the Senate education committee action.
The amendment from Senators Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) would require that at least 50 percent of funding in any federal grants for this purpose be used for professional development. The rest could be used for hardware, software, or whatever else is needed to advance the use of technology, according to Krueger.
Among the allowable use of funds would be providing online courses and professional development for blended learning. The measure also would require states to provide a plan for how they would allocate funds to support the use of personalized learning approaches and open educational resources.
Meanwhile, the Senate Appropriations subcommittee on education met with U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan the same day the Senate Education Committee voted on the I-TECH amendment. My Education Week colleague Alyson Klein wrote about that hearing on the Politics K-12 blog.
Funding for the Enhancing Education Through Technology program, which President Obama pulled the financial plug on in 2010, did not come up in the discussion. Back in February, the president included $200 million in his proposed budget to reinstate the plan. Krueger said the I-TECH program would replace the Enhancing Education Through Technology program. But that is dependent on the measure passing the House and Senate, receiving support from the White House, and getting actual funding.
Movement on I-TECH is “important and a breakthrough, but it doesn’t mean that tomorrow the magic checkbook is going to open,” Krueger said.
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