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Net times at Digital High

Digital High School, a $500 million California initiative to wire schools to the Net and ensure computer-savvy graduates, is moving through the state legislature.

California Gov. Pete Wilson's Digital High School, a $500 million initiative to wire the state's campuses to the Net and ensure computer-literate graduates, will be put into motion if three Assembly bills introduced yesterday are passed.

The governor announced the plan in his State of the State Address on January 7. Digital High calls for $500 million from the state over the next four years, as well as a local match requirement, to raise a total of $1 billion in order to buy new computers and Net connections for schools, distribute technology grants, and provide faculty training.

Although California's Silicon Valley is on the forefront of developing and manufacturing computer and Net technology, Wilson sited that student access to computer technology ranks a low 45 out of the 50 states. In addition, it is estimated that there is only 1 computer that isn't obsolete for every 73 students in the state.

Assembly bills 1011, 1012, and 1013 will establish the Digital High School by setting up the grant program local school districts must apply to for the state money; appropriating $44.975 million from the General Fund to the Superintendent, specific funds that are set aside for public education; and by dedicating money to train teachers to use computers and incorporate them into their curriculum.

"Students need to be competitive in the future job market. The need for students to obtain computer skills hasn't been a high priority, in part because of the high cost," state Rep. Fred Aguiar (R-Ontario) said today.

"It's time California faces up to the fact that by the year 2002, 60 percent of the jobs in the state will require some computer skills. We can't afford to put this off any longer," he added.

The plan would distribute funding to schools based on its average daily attendance basis; require local matching of at least $1 million for an average-sized school, which could be obtained through private industry; and would include $90 a year per student that would be split between the state and school for maintenance and upgrades.

When Wilson introduced the plan, he said: "I want to emphasize a partnership between Sacramento and schools, not a government giveaway. To earn a grant from the state, a school must find matching funds."

However, the reliance of Wilson's plan on school funding, which will likely come in part from some industries, may still leave schools with fewer corporate ties behind the learning curve.

Aguiar said that technology was already unequally distributed in the state's high schools, not to mention the imbalance students who have computers at home and those who don't. He has introduced another bill in December to wire school libraries to help fill this gap.

The California Teacher's Association has not released an opinion about Digital High and the additional requirements it would put on teachers. Aguiar's bill would require the State Department of Education, the Office of Child Development and Education, and the Department of Information Technology to jointly develop criteria for the grants.

State Rep. Charles Poochigian (R- Fresno) introduced 1012, and both Rep. Rod Pacheco (R-Riverside), and Rep. Kerry Mazzoni (D-San Rafael) introduced 1013.