Testimony to the Illinois State Board of Education on the 2004 Education Technology Budget - Metropolitan Planning Council

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Testimony to the Illinois State Board of Education on the 2004 Education Technology Budget

After taking a hit this past year in the ISBE budget, Network 21 strongly urges restored funding for education technology in the 2004 budget.

Submitted by Network 21:  Quality Schools for Stronger Communities
Bindu Batchu, Technology Associate
Metropolitan Planning Council
October 25, 2002

Good morning. My name is Bindu Batchu, and I work on technology policy issues at the Metropolitan Planning Council.  As part of my efforts at the Metropolitan Planning Council, I focus on educational technology issues for the Network 21 coalition.  I have helped advise the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) on education technology issues in various capacities, having served on its committee to shape its application for federal education technology funds and currently advising on its plan for "Digital-Age Learning" as a member of its Education Technology Advisory Committee.  I also coordinate Network 21's Education Technology Working Group, consisting of key educators and business leaders from across the state.  I want to thank you for the opportunity to make some brief remarks today on education technology as the Illinois State Board of Education prepares its 2004 budget proposal.

Many decision-makers still feel that using technology in schools is an "add-on," a luxury we can do without.  They view technology as separate from our key goals of improving and increasing student achievement rather than as a critical tool that, if used effectively, can greatly enhance diagnostics, teaching and learning.

What has led us to believe this is the case in Illinois?  One key sign is that education technology funding got slashed significantly in Illinois' FY2003 budget. Apart from General State Aid, education technology was the largest cut in terms of the line items within the ISBE budget.  The disproportionate reduction to education technology was $12.8 million or 26 percent off its previous FY 2002 budget of $49.25 million.  This reduction came on top of an already flat and stagnant education technology budget, which had grown a mere one percent over the prior three years.

Unfortunately, in making this cut, decision-makers did not recognize that technology is all about raising student achievement. Technology tools, in fact, directly address our most pressing concerns in raising student achievement today.  Technology tools are helping improve teacher quality and retention through resources such as online professional development portals, online curricula and lesson plans, and electronic-based mentoring and collaboration, creating greater opportunities for teachers to seek help from peers and educational experts.  They are creating and improving accountability and efficiency through better systems for managing student data and improved communications with stakeholders, especially parents.  They are offering and improving opportunities for continual assessment and strategic intervention with students.  This is on top of the many expanded opportunities for engaged and real-world learning that technology tools enable — not to mention preparing students for 21st century jobs that will increasingly require digital-age skills and technological proficiency. 

Our challenge and opportunity is to integrate these technology-based tools systematically to improve student achievement.  With the rigorous federal requirements of the No Child Left Behind Act, we have no time to waste. The federal legislation includes requirements to have all 8th graders meet state technology literacy standards and all teachers to be qualified to integrate technology into the classroom by 2013-2014. Illinois can help meet this and other requirements of No Child Left Behind Act through effective use of technology tools.

Looking at schools that have effectively integrated technology, for example, districts in the South Cook Education Consortium like Prairie-Hills Elementary School District #144, we find that effective technology use can have a significant impact. At Prairie-Hills, quarterly student assessments are done online, saving time and putting valuable results and feedback immediately back into teachers' and parents' hands. Teachers can also access the district curricula online and share lesson plans with other teachers using an online instructional design template. This use of technology is producing concrete results.  Student achievement data at Prairie-Hills has shown marked improvement over the past two years.

However with the 2003 cuts to education technology, combined with the flat spending for the prior three years, many school districts this year are taking several steps back in their efforts to integrate technology.  Many school districts have already cut back on important programs to provide basic technical support and to train teachers on using technology in the classroom, greatly reducing the educational return on prior technology investments. 

Without the leadership, resources and commitment from the state, Illinois misses a tremendous opportunity to use technology to improve student achievement, to efficiently meet many requirements of No Child Left Behind, and to implement the bold vision set forth in the state's "Digital-Age Learning" plan. Current spending falls far short of what is needed to meet these challenges.  Illinois is spending less than $15 per student on education technology, greatly behind states such as New York (which spends $33 per student) and Texas (which spends upwards of $60 per student). At the same time, No Child Left Behind leaves few financial resources for ISBE to provide the much-needed quality education technology leadership and technical assistance to Illinois school districts.

Network 21 strongly urges ISBE to restore education technology funds in its 2004 budget proposal to at least the FY 2002 budget level of $49.25 million.  However, for Illinois to make serious progress, to make up for the lost ground over the past four years and to meet the No Child Left Behind requirements, we will need resources beyond this level.

Thank you again for allowing me the opportunity to address the board today.  Network 21 is glad to serve as a resource to the state board whenever possible.

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