Educational Considerations, vol. 31(2) Full Issue

Chad Litz
2004 Educational Considerations  
Introduction In spite of signs of an economic recovery at the national level, many states still face formidable fi scal problems. 1 In addition, the national fi scal outlook is compromised by a growing federal defi cit, slow growth in job creation, and lingering unemployment in many parts of the country. As such, it is essential to understand the full context for state education funding. In the preK-12 educational domain, personnel costs continue to be the largest single budget item, frequently
more » ... overshadowing other budgetary demands. Furthermore, in an era of heightened accountability and high stakes testing imposed at the state and national levels, competitive compensation, particularly in shortage areas such as mathematics, science, and special education, and in geographic areas, such as urban and rural school districts, is essential for teacher recruitment and retention. Education reforms, such as class size reduction, aimed at raising academic achievement, require additional staffi ng-and additional funding. Another costly education reform is education technology, used both to enhance academic achievement and to prepare students for future employment in a global economy. As a fi scal issue, education technology is unique because it spans both operating and capital budgets, making it a potential competitor with school infrastructure needs. In the best of economic times, state policymakers must carefully weigh funding priorities. However, with deferred maintenance for schools estimated at more than $100 billion dollars, 2 and total unmet funding need for all types of school infrastructure, inclusive of new construction and renovation, estimated at over $260 billion, 3 state policymakers fi nd themselves under tremendous pressure to provide suffi cient funding for education and other public services without raising taxes. Setting funding priorities for education technology and school infrastructure may be further complicated by perceptions of their relative worth. For example, the image of engaged students working on state-of-the-art computers may be more compelling to many lawmakers and voters than the replacement of a leaky roof; but both are necessary and costly. The cost of most school infrastructure projects requires multi-year investments by school districts while the costs for education technology are also ongoing, but for different reasons. Because current technologies rapidly become obsolete, schools are faced not only with substantial initial investments, but also investments for upgrades and replacements over time. To that end, this article explores the competition between education technology and school infrastructure for scarce resources in the state educational funding arena. The fi rst section provides a comprehensive defi nition of education technology to anchor the discussion. Next, data on state funding levels for education technology are presented, followed by a description of the ways states allocate these funds. Here the potential for competition between education technology and school infrastructure emerges. In the third section, state estimates of unmet funding need for education technology are contrasted with those for school infrastructure. The article closes with policy recommendations for the equitable and adequate funding of education technology. The Scope of Education Technology Needs It is important to ground the discussion of the potential competition of education technology and school infrastructure for the same pool of funding by defi ning the scope of education technology needs. As part of a national study of unmet education technology funding needs, researchers at the National Education Association developed a comprehensive defi nition with the following nine components: (1) Multimedia computers; (2) Peripherals; (3) Operating, applications, and educational software; (4) Connectivity; (5) Networks; (6) Technology infrastructure; (7) Distance education; (8) Maintenance and repair of technology equipment; and (9) Professional development and support. 4 Multimedia computers are generally newer, faster, and more powerful computers with sound capability and high-resolution graphics. Usually they have an internal CD-ROM and modem, the latter for Internet access. Peripherals represent a category of computer hardware that includes equipment such as printers, assistive/adaptive devices, 5 digital cameras, scanners, and computer projection units. Also included are various pieces of equipment such as CD-ROMS, zip drives, and modems that, although internally installed on many newer computers, are sometimes added externally to older computers. Operating software refers to computer programs, such as DOS and Windows, that provide the foundation for utilizing applications and educational software. Applications software includes computer programs such as word-processing and spreadsheets while educational software represents computer programs that are specifi cally designed for student learning. Connectivity refers to Internet access, video conferencing, and video phones. Networks found within a school or district include LANs (Local Area Networks) and WANs (Wide Area Networks). Technology infrastructure includes wiring and cables to, within, and between schools. In addition, to accommodate computers and peripherals, electrical upgrades may be needed in order for the school facility to support more electrical outlets; or the school may require more phone lines or fi ber optic cables to support connectivity to the Internet. Distance education makes use of a number of components listed above to allow courses to be taught at remote sites. Maintenance and repair of technology equipment includes maintenance contracts and repair costs to keep computers and peripherals functioning properly over the life of the equipment. Professional development and support is necessary so that teachers and other educational professionals make effective use of technology to enhance student learning. The description above makes evident that education technology needs draw from both the operating and capital budgets of school 4 districts. With regard to operating budgets, education technology includes personnel costs for professional development and support; maintenance and repair costs for equipment; and the cost of several categories of equipment, which in some cases are categorized as part of the school district's operating budget and, in others, part of the capital budget, depending upon individual state laws around budgeting, bonding, and accounting. Technology infrastructure represents a direct overlap with the broader category of school infrastructure and so is likely to draw upon capital resources within a school district. In the next section, examples of overlap and competition are presented as part of the description of state funding for education technology. Funding for Education Technology In 1995-1996, twenty-one states provided $451.6 million for education technology, ranging from $100,000 in Montana to $117 million in Florida. 6 On average, states spent $21.5 million. Three years later, in 1998-1999, the most recent time period for which data are available, 31 states provided $847.8 million to local school districts for education technology funding. 7 (See Appendix.) Funding levels ranged from $600,000 in Delaware to $191.4 million in California, for an average state expenditure of $27.3 million. On a per pupil basis, the average state expenditure for education technology was a mere $27; 8 but these numbers tell only a small part of the funding story. Education technology is funded through a wide range of mechanisms at the state level. The summary table at the end of the article makes explicit the array of funding mechanisms state use. Some, such as Alabama and Tennessee, fund education technology as part of the state's basic aid formula allocation although the use of funds for education technology by school districts may be restricted to particular expenditure categories. If education technology funding is allocated through state basic aid, there is a reasonable assurance that it is equalized because most basic aid formulas provide greater assistance to property and/or income poor school districts. 9 A number of states use one or more forms of categorical aid. For example, Minnesota funds education technology with seven categorical programs and New York, four. Unlike funding allocated through basic aid, funds distributed through categorical aid programs may or may not be equalized. Pennsylvania and South Carolina provide examples of equalized categorical funding. Other states, like Arkansas and California, may require school districts to submit a grant application to access education technology funds, a potential barrier for some school districts. Four states-Connecticut, Idaho, Illinois, and Washington-distribute a portion of state funding for education technology through a competitive grant process, a process that disadvantages districts lacking grantwriting expertise. At least one state, Kansas, requires the local school district to match state funding for education technology and to have a state-approved education technology plan in order to be eligible for funding. To further complicate the funding picture, some states use a combination of the funding approaches mentioned here. In nine states, funding programs for education technology compete or overlap with those that have traditionally been considered the province of school infrastructure: Arizona; Connecticut; Minnesota; Missouri; Nebraska; New Jersey; Pennsylvania; Rhode Island; and Texas. In Arizona, the new school capital fi nance system includes education technology as well as school infrastructure. As such, there is no separate state appropriation for education technology. Like Arizona, Minnesota funds education technology from infrastructure resources, more specifi cally, the component of the general education revenue formula which is also used to fi nance school facilities needs. In Arizona and Minnesota, education technology competes directly with school infrastructure for the same resources. Education technology infrastructure funding in the remaining seven states potentially overlaps with funding for school infrastructure; that is, when education technology infrastructure is funded as a stand alone program, a potential overlap exists as well with school infrastructure funding programs. For example, Missouri's education technology funding program includes the funding of technology infrastructure. In Nebraska, funding for education technology is targeted toward training and technology infrastructure. Connecticut's funding for education technology is limited to the wiring of schools, an infrastructure item, to make them technology-compatible. Texas also limits education technology funding to infrastructure, in particular providing connectivity. However, the Texas funding program is broader than elementary and secondary education in that it includes institutions of higher education, libraries, and hospitals. New Jersey restricts education technology funding to the Distance Learning Network which includes costs associated with professional development, purchase of software, and maintenance, as well as education technology infrastructure. In Pennsylvania, the "Link to Learn" program provides school districts with education technology funding that includes the infrastructure component of cabling for LANs and WANs. Like Pennsylvania, Rhode Island's funding for education technology includes infrastructure. Since most states allow education technology infrastructure to be funded through broader school infrastructure funding mechanisms that generally permit school districts to incur long-term debt, education technology infrastructure costs may potentially be supported through capital budgets. At the same time, education technology funding programs generally target funds as operating expenditures. Hence in states which fund both school infrastructure and education technology, technology infrastructure funding may be duplicative if it is also eligible for education technology funding. At the state policy level, this confi guration raises issues of cost-effectiveness on two fronts. First, it represents duplication of funding effort for education technology infrastructure, and secondly it raises concerns about the appropriate fi nancing of technology infrastructure. Unlike other components of education technology, technology infrastructure represents a long-term investment that may be fi nanced more appropriately in a manner similar to other school infrastructure projects, through long-term debt instruments. Funding education technology infrastructure as a capital investment in turn would free up additional resources for operating expenses associated with education technology, such as professional development and support. In the next section, the extent of unmet funding need for education technology is explored, with special attention to estimates for education technology infrastructure. Funding Needs for Education Technology Earlier research has indicated that statewide education technology plans are the best single source for systematic data on education technology funding needs although even these provide only limited data. 10 In 1999, 38 states had statewide education technology plans in place, of which 26 had been developed in the prior fi ve years. 11 Of these, only ten had developed cost estimates. A closer analysis of the cost estimates revealed that only three of the ten states-California, 12 Connecticut, 13 Delaware 14 -had developed cost estimates inclusive of all of the elements of a comprehensive defi nition of education 5 Litz: Educational Considerations, vol. 31(2) Full Issue The unmet funding need for school infrastructure, estimated at $266.1 billion, is substantial as well. While it was not possible to partition out the portion of education technology plan cost estimates for education technology infrastructure with precision, education technology plans for Illinois 15 and New Mexico 16 may provide some insight as their cost estimates were limited to education technology infrastructure. Illinois projected costs for education technology infrastructure to be $787 million or $399 per pupil, while New Mexico estimated $75.1 million or $237 per pupil. When compared to total estimates for unmet funding need, education technology infrastructure represented 37% and 22% of total unmet funding need for education technology in Illinois and New Mexico, respectively. Conclusions and Policy Recommendations This article explored competition between school infrastructure and education technology for limited educational resources. An important fi rst step was to defi ne the scope of education technology funding needs. In doing so, the overlap between education technology infrastructure and the broader category of school infrastructure becomes apparent. An analysis of current state funding revealed a mix of approaches to funding education technology, ranging from basic and categorical aid programs to selective grants. Nine states had some overlap in funding between education technology infrastructure. In some states, education technology is funded through infrastructure programs, even though a number of components of education technology would be considered operating costs. This confi guration leads to direct competition between education technology and school infrastructure for education funds. In other states, elements of education technology infrastructure, such as wiring and cabling, appear to be eligible for funding under both education technology and school infrastructure funding provisions. Such overlap creates the potential for duplication and ineffective use of resources. Because both education technology and school infrastructure suffer from underfunding at the state level, competition and duplication are serious policy issues. To avoid such ineffi ciencies, policymakers must conceptualize a state education funding system as an integrated whole. Admittedly, because aspects of education technology and school infrastructure can be quite technical, it may be challenging at the policy level to discern the potential for overlap and competition. To enable state policymakers to make informed decisions, appropriate agencies and experts should be deployed to develop comprehensive long-range plans with realistic cost estimates in both education technology and school infrastructure. Yet because unmet funding need for education technology and school infrastructure tops $300 billion, federal involvement may be required. Although states constitutionally are responsible for education funding, the federal government has a long history in intervening in education matters that have become national in scope. However, in order to determine the appropriate federal and state roles, Table 1 Funding Need for Education Technology
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