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Skepticism over Obama’s Education Budget

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Obama’s announcement on Monday about the budget for education has ruffled more than a few feathers. Two groups scratching their heads over his proposed budget are the National PTA and educational technologists. Since I’m both a parent and an educational technologist, I wanted to look deeper into the proposed changes in these areas.

First, the PTA issued a statement that the proposed elimination of the Parent Information and Resource Centers program is of “great concern to PTA. This program is the sole federal initiative dedicated to supporting family engagement in education.” The White House has proposed consolidating that program with the following programs: Charter Schools Grants, Credit Enhancement for Charter School Facilities, Smaller Learning Communities, and Voluntary Public School Choice. The newly proposed program is called “Expanding Educational Options.”

It seems an odd place to put a program on parental involvement. The other programs all have to do with choices of schools rather than focusing on parental involvement in existing schools. The PTA has urged Congress to maintain funding for this program. The Education Department website, where a list of all the proposed consolidations can be found, indicates that funding for these activities will be maintained, just not through a separate program.

As a member of my local Parent-Teacher organization, I can say that almost zero money is spent by the school itself on parental involvement. Maybe there are districts that apply for grants from the PTA or from the Education Department for parental education programs, but here, there’s not much being done. In part, that’s because we have involved parents. I know that in high school, there are more programs for parents, possibly funded by the district through state or federal programs, mostly focused on college admissions and teen problems such as drug use and sexual activity. In other words, I’m sure in some districts, this might be felt as a loss, but here, and in many well-funded school districts, it won’t be.

Second, the technology reforms. T.H.E., a journal that covers technology in education, covers the “A New Foundation for 21st Century Learning”, educational technology funding will be available through several programs. Much of the language of the document is directed at funding for small businesses and others for developing software and/or hardware for use in teaching and learning. And there’s a mention of working with the Department of Defense to evaluate appropriate uses of technology in teaching. The DoD is a big user of technology for training their employees, but training a DoD employee is a very different thing from teaching 6th grade math.

While I’m hopeful that the programs listed in the above document really will provide enough funding for technology in schools to cover the loss of the EETT budget, it’s disconcerting to think that funding for technology in education may essentially be gone. It seems that in order to catch up with our counterparts in other countries, technology needs to be a big part of the equation – not the only part, to be sure, but a significant part. Technology can even be a great way to get parents involved. Since our school and PTA moved to email and the web and even Facebook for communicating with parents, I know I’ve been paying a bit more attention to what’s going on in my kids’ schools.

The devil is in the details, of course, and we won’t know exactly what these budget proposals will mean until Congress is done hacking on them. Stay tuned.

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About Laura Blankenship

  • Laura, Reading your article just sent a chill through my back; the thought of the DOD taking over technology in primary education…

    I will have to ask my husband how much out-of-pocket money he has spent on his students and classrooms in the last thirty five years he has taught primary.

    I’m not surprised that the schools themselves don’t invest more in the parents, as they might not have enough money left over, after all the top heavy spending is finished.

    If thirty percent comes right off the top of the budget for administrative costs, then, what is left for the teachers and their students?

    Perhaps we could consolidate some of the superintendent positions. You see, in our district they are practically tripping over one another, and each pulls in 100k+ salaries, fully staffed office suites, and many other perks.

    We need to put the focus on our children’s future, correct?

    Well it appears to me, that this is not the top priority here in N.Y.S.
    I thought that each child would have had a computer on their desk by now, but
    we have Gov. Paterson.

    Great article.

  • The more money you throw on it, the less goes to the children. Or maybe that’s how it is in Michigan. Detroit Public Schools spends over 15K a year per student, and yet only 25% graduate (and according to the Detroit News last weekend, do so unable to survive college without remedial help.)

    Here’s the rub: in our business, where we teach teens to drive, we were the first in the state to start a parental involvement component. What dismays me is the number of parents who don’t want to be involved. No matter what is taught, a parent is key in education. You can’t force them to involvement.