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Budget doubled for wiring schools

President Clinton approves $425 million in education technology spending to meet the goal of putting PCs and Net connections in every classroom by 2000.

To reach the goal of providing every K-12 classroom with computers and Net connections by the year 2000, President Clinton has approved $425 million for education technology spending--more than doubling the 1997 budget.

The money is earmarked for the Technology Literacy Challenge Fund, a one-year-old federal See special report: Wired schools: It takes a village program that allocates funds to states for hardware, software, and online access, but on the condition that localities work with private industry to turn out tech-savvy students.

The additional funding was part of the Education Department's 1998 budget, which was passed by Congress and signed by Clinton on Thursday.

Part of the tech-literacy fund, known as the Technology Challenge Grant Program, distributes technology grants specifically to low-income schools, whose districts have to apply for the grants. The program will receive $116 million next year, up from $67 million for 1997.

"This is not just about connecting children to computers, it is about connecting children to the future," Vice President Al Gore said in a statement. "If we fail to ensure that our children have the technological resources they need to compete in an ever-changing information economy, our nation will be poorer for it."

The federal investment in PCs and modems for public schools is at an all-time high. The Technology Literacy Challenge Fund will only add to a growing pot of cash, which includes the $2.25 billion per year set aside by the Federal Communications Commission in May to subsidize discounted Net access for disadvantaged schools and libraries.

On top of state and federal taxpayers' contributions, the high-tech industry also is fueling the drive to put a computer on every child's desk in the United States. But buying equipment is not enough, educators contend. A long-term budgetary commitment to teacher training and technical support need to be a part of the investment, too--which, in most cases, isn't happening now.

It is unclear how much of the tech-literacy grants are used for teacher training or technical support. However, the application rules do require that states and localities provide "ongoing professional development in the integration of quality educational technologies into school curriculum and long-term planning for implementing educational technologies."

In addition, states must provide administrative and technical support.

"Under the fund, states have the responsibility of redistributing the money to schools districts, and they can set evaluation and assessment mechanisms to make sure the money is being used wisely," said David Byer, the Software Publishers Association vice president for government affairs.

"There is little assessment now regarding technical support," he added. "But schools are realizing that do it right they need on-site technical support, as well as very highly skilled educators who know what to do with the technology once they get it."