Hilary Goldmann, ISTE Director of Government Affairs, shares the monthly Washington Notes newsletter prepared by the Bernstein Strategy Group directly to its Affiliate list-serve. Washington Notes is an update of the month’s policy and advocacy activities “inside the beltway.” Please feel free to distribute this newsletter widely – it is also posted on Hilary Goldman’s blog at the ISTE Ning. Read this month’s notes below.

Hilary hosts a  policy teleconference call entitled the “ESEA Reauthorization Advisory Group” the second Wednesday every month at 12:30pm EST. Please contact Hilary if you and/or others from your organization would like to join the calls. You can follow her on [email protected]

You can make your voice heard through the Ed Tech Action Network (ETAN).  

Contact: Hilary Goldmann
Director of Government Affairs
International Society for Technology in Education
1710 Rhode Island Avenue
Washington, DC 20036
Phone: 202.861.7777 x119   Fax: 202.861.0888
Membership Services: 1.800.336.5191

Washington Notes – February 2012

In this issue:

  • Administration’s FY13 Budget Increases Education Funding But Shortchanges Ed Tech
  • FCC Targets Lifeline Instead of E-Rate Monies for Digital Literacy Corps
  • Big Launch for Digital Learning Day – and the Digital Textbook Playbook
  • Internet Essentials Program Shows Success; Makes Changes
  • ISTE, CoSN and SETDA to Hold Ninth Annual Washington Ed Tech Policy Summit

Administration’s FY13 Budget Increases Education Funding But Shortchanges Ed Tech

In mid-February, the Administration released a proposed budget for FY13 that recommends a significant funding increase for the Department of Education but continued the tradition of zeroing out funding for the Enhancing Education Through Technology (EETT) program. Specifically, the President proposed $69.8 billion in education discretionary spending, which is $1.7 billion (2.5%) higher than the FY 2012 enacted amount.  While this amount takes into account the discretionary spending caps from the Budget Control Act of 2011, it does not incorporate the 9.1% across the board cuts that impend because of the Super Committee’s failure to reach a deficit reduction deal last fall. Final agreement on FY13 appropriations could come swiftly, as Congress tries to exit early for the fall campaign, or could occur in a lame duck session after the elections.

While the President’s proposed budget largely level-funded major programs, such as Title I, IDEA and the Teacher Quality Block grant (Title IIA), it invested in a few existing Administration priorities and proposed some major new initiatives. For example, the proposed budget included $850 million for Race to the Top and $5 billion for a new competitive program for states and districts to create systems to attract, reward, and retain good teachers.  In addition, the President’s Budget Message emphasized the need to prepare more science and math teachers over the next decade and the budget proposal included $80 million for teacher preparation and another $60 million for a mathematics initiative ($30 million from the Department of Education and $30 million from the National Science Foundation) to support evidence-based ways to improve K-12 and undergraduate student learning. Finally, Promise Neighborhoods received a significant proposed increase that would add more than $40 million to its existing funding.

In addition, the Budget again emphasized the Administration’s desire to re-structure existing K-12 programs by consolidating 38 currently existing authorities into 11 programs.  While this idea was proposed in previous budgets and Congress has not funded 22 of these programs over the last two years—including EETT—Congress has not overhauled the entire structure and has only funded 2 of the 11 new programs (Race to the Top and i3).  Lastly, although not part of the education budget, the President also proposes $30 billion to modernize schools and $30 billion to help states and districts hire and retain teachers and first responders.

Unsurprisingly, Republicans lambasted the proposed budget before the ink was even dry. House Education & the Workforce Chairman John Kline (R-MN) said: The administration continues to tighten the federal government’s grip on the nation’s education system, prescribing more intrusion in K-12 classrooms, more burdensome mandates on colleges, more unsustainable costs for taxpayers, and more uncertainty for students of all ages. I am troubled by the president’s plan to expand the Race to the Top program significantly, forcing taxpayers to fund an even larger slush fund operated at the sole discretion of the Secretary of Education…We all want to support better education opportunities for students, but we must also be wary of grand schemes that lead to empty promises.” House Labor, HHS and Education Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Dennis Rehberg (R-MT) was similarly scathing in his statement on the budget: “I appreciate that the President has offered a budget, something the Senate hasn’t done for more than three years.  That being said, the President isn’t being straight with the American people, and I think Montanans deserve better.  Accounting tricks and budget gimmicks aren’t going to solve our problems and put people to work.  Let’s stop giving special deals to special interests and start working together to make government work more effectively and efficiently for everyone.  We need an honest, fair, long-term budget that meets the challenges we face today so our kids don’t have even bigger challenges tomorrow.”

ISTE CEO Don Knezek also voiced deep concerns about the budget: “We’re disappointed that once again the Administration’s rhetoric on digital learning does not match its funding priorities. On February 1, Digital Learning Day, President Obama said, “By harnessing the power of technology in the classroom, we equip our educators with the tools they need to prepare our next generation of doers and thinkers for the jobs of tomorrow.”  Barely two weeks later Obama’s FY13 budget fails to provide any direct program funding, such as the Enhancing Education Through Technology, or EETT, program, that would help realize that vision…The Obama Administration has embraced the notion that schools are transitioning from print to digital, and that students need digital skills to succeed in college and career. But this budget doesn’t help them get there. “

Here is a quick review of how major existing education programs fared:

 Program Name  FY11 FY12  FY13 (Admin) 
 Title I $14.1463B  $14.496B $14.5B
 IDEA, Part B 11.482B 11.560B 11.6B
 Teacher Quality 2.468B 2.463B 2.5B
 21st Century CLC 1.154B 1.152B 1.2B
 Career/Tech Ed 1.124B 1.122B 1.1B
 English Language Acquisition 733.5M 732.1M 732.1B
 Charter Schools 255.5M 255M Consolidated
 Math/Science Partnerships 175.1M 149.7M 149.7M
 Rural Education 174.5M 179.2M 179.2M
 EETT 0 0 0
 State Data Systems 42.2M 38M 53.1M
 Promise Neighborhood 29.9M 59.9M 100M
 Race to the Top 698.6M 549M 850M
 Investing in Innovation 149.7M 149.4M 150M


FCC Targets Lifeline Instead of E-Rate Monies for Digital Literacy Corps: May Still Have E-Rate Administer New Digital Literacy Corps     In early February, the Federal Communications Commission released for public comment its proposals to revamp the universal service Lifeline program, which subsidizes telephone service for low-income citizens, and to establish a Digital Literacy Corps pilot, which would support schools and libraries operating digital literacy courses and providing materials. Contrary to previous statements from the FCC’s Chairman about looking to the E-Rate to fund a Digital Literacy Corps pilot, the FCC’s Public Comment Notice suggests that the anticipated 4-year, $50 million annual cost to support the pilot would come from either the Lifeline program or the universal service high cost fund, which subsidizes rural and remote residential telephone service rates. ISTE successfully opposed siphoning E-Rate monies to pay for this new initiative.  The Commission does still seek to involve the E-Rate, however, by suggesting in the Notice that the E-Rate program serve as implementer and administrator for the Digital Literacy Corps.

As the Commission conceives of the program currently, it would provide libraries with approximately 80% of the funding and schools the remaining 20%. The Notice suggests that each grant would be in the range of $10,500 per year (plus a required 30% match), which would allow approximately 4,800 entities to apply each year.  The Commission is also considering limiting funding to only those schools, libraries and communities that “do not already offer formal digital literacy training services so that [the universal service fund] does not displace existing funding for such training, either public or private sector sources.” Thus, recipients of BTOP funding and/or foundation grants would not be eligible.

While the Notice does say “nothing in the statutory framework…precludes the Commission from creating a new program that is administered separately from existing programs,” it does clearly evince the Commission’s preference for using the E-Rate program to administer the program. It suggests that the E-Rate program makes sense as an administrative vehicle because it already engages with schools and libraries and its authorizing statute provides the Commission with the opportunity to designate “additional services” beyond current services. Essentially, the Notice argues that the Commission has already interpreted additional services to include currently supported non-telecommunications services, including Internet access and internal connections. Therefore, the Commission believes that it can designate as additional services under E-Rate those services related to implementing the Digital Literacy Corps – including paying for trainers, staff training for the trainers, curriculum, software, marketing, volunteer recruitment, and administrative costs. The FCC has long considered these items as unrelated to basic conduit access to the Internet and thus barred from E-Rate support.

ISTE will likely submit comments in collaboration with the Education and Libraries Network Coalition (EdLinc).  ISTE’s E-Rate Input Group will provide advice to inform these comments, that will be due sometime in March.


Big Launch for Digital Learning Day – and the Digital Textbook Playbook      February 1, officially became Digital Learning Day forevermore, with the Alliance for Excellent Education inaugurating a day of webcasts and state and local level events.  ISTE participated in the planning and the day of the event as a Core Partner.  Overall, approximately 39 states with 19,000 teachers representing over 1.7 million students participated.  The culminating event was a virtual national town hall meeting that featured commentary by former West Virginia Governor and Alliance President Bob Wise, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski, an appearance by Senator Michael Bennet, and conversations with teachers and students from around the country.  Pioneering schools and districts in Colorado, North Carolina, Texas, Ohio, Washington, DC, and West Virginia were featured for their use of various technologies to elevate the learning and teaching experience including netbooks, white boards, STEM labs, and project based learning. Skype was used to bring teachers and students into the conversation to explain how technology has enhanced their classrooms.

During the town hall, Secretary Duncan and Chairman Genachowski unveiled the Digital Textbook Playbook (“Playbook”) as a tool for schools considering transitioning from print to digital.  The Playbook was created by the Digital Textbook Collaborative, a group of education technology leaders in private industry, districts, and nonprofits brought together by the Department of Education and the FCC.  The Playbook provides advice and lists prudent considerations for schools and districts in 4 key areas: the leadership and planning necessary to make the transition; connectivity at school; connectivity beyond school; and device options.  In the area of connectivity at school, the Playbook emphasizes that schools and districts need to determine how much bandwidth they will need to support digital devices and learning and provides new tools, including an updated bandwidth calculator, lists a variety of broadband service options, and references the vital resources of the E-Rate program.  Furthermore, the Playbook recognizes the connection between connectivity in the classroom and connectivity at home, and provides various options for communities to consider, including mobile broadband, school-based Wi-Fi networks, opening up school computer labs as “school spots” after school hours, and home broadband connection programs such as Comcast’s Internet Essentials and the FCC’s Connect to Compete which provide $9.95/month broadband and $150 computers.  Lastly, without endorsing any particular device, the Playbook lists the benefits of digital devices and the pros and cons of school provided devices versus bring your own device programs.

Looking forward, Chairman Genachowski announced that there will be a meeting of CEOs who work in the digital learning field to build upon the work already done and move towards the goal of nationwide digital textbook adoption within the next 5 years.   Overall, the FCC is focused on the field of digital textbooks, connectivity, and broadband access and buy-in.  The Department of Education is working with the FCC on many of these endeavors, but the Secretary indicated the government’s role in education technology is to try and foster innovation, which indicates that the Department is currently focused on research and development type projects rather than direct education technology funding.


Internet Essentials Program Shows Success; Makes Changes     In late January, Comcast provided data on and announced changes to  its Internet Essentials program, which it launched at the beginning of this school year and which is focused on providing connectivity, training and low-cost devices to the homes of low-income students. Comcast established the program as a condition of its merger with NBC/Universal and the rest of the cable industry is now developing a similar home broadband for education program, called Connect to Compete.

When Internet Essentials launched, it offered students receiving free lunches, who were residing in Comcast’s footprint, the opportunity to receive broadband connectivity in their homes for $9.95/month; $150 computers; and digital literacy training. According to Comcast, in the program’s first six months, over 41,000 families (approximately 80,000 students and 160,000 people overall) were connected to the internet; approximately 300 digital literacy training sessions were conducted for more than 1,250 people; and over 5,500 computers were distributed to eligible families. Additionally, Comcast identified the counties with the highest rate of program adoption as: Cook County, IL, Miami Dade County, FL, Harris County, TX, Broward County, FL, Wayne County, MI, Fulton County Georgia, Palm Beach County, FL, Dekalb County, GA, King County, WA, and Sacramento County, CA.

To further stimulate adoption of the program, Comcast announced a number of changes to the program in late January. First, rather than just students receiving federal free lunches, Comcast will now include families who are eligible to receive reduced price school lunch. This change alone is expected to make eligible for the program an additional 300,000 families. Second, the minimum connection speed for the broadband service offered will double and now be 3Mbps. Third, community organizations will now be allowed to purchase the program in bulk to help reach more families. And fourth, instant approval will be granted to students who attend schools that provide free school lunch to all students.


ISTE, CoSN and SETDA to Hold Ninth Annual Washington Ed Tech Policy Summit on March 8     With so much already percolating legislatively, including ESEA Reauthorization and FY13 Appropriations, and at the FCC, early March is the right time to come to Washington to make sure your voice is heard. On March 8, 2012, the Consortium for School Networking (CoSN), the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE(R)), and the State Educational Technology Directors Association (SETDA) will hold the Washington Education Technology Policy Summit.

The goal of the Summit is to engage Beltway insiders and leaders throughout the education technology community in dialogue about ed tech policy. We continuously strive to encourage this dialogue and the Summit is a key part of that effort. The program will feature Advocacy Bootcamp, remarks from key federal policy leaders, and opportunities to visit Congressional members for private meetings.

Read past issues of Washington Notes posted on Hilary Goldman’s blog