Techies urge lawmakers to protect funding source

(UPDATED, 2:50 p.m., Sept. 6 to clarify that the Idaho Education Technology Association wants funding for technology preserved as a line item, not rolled into the new funding formula).

Technology directors are encouraging a legislative interim committee to protect funding for technology by preserving a budget “line item” that carves out specific funding levels.

Leaders of the Idaho Education Technology Association are asking the Legislature’s Public School Funding Formula Interim Committee not to roll that funding source into a new school funding formula. Instead, they want to preserve a separate line item and that earmarks specific funding levels for public schools and charters.

Meanwhile, the Idaho School Boards Association and the Idaho Education Association have asked the Legislature’s Public School Funding Formula Interim Committee to reconsider their draft and make sure that a budget line item specifically for technology funding is rolled into the state’s new funding formula.

When the interim committee met Wednesday, it unveiled a draft of a new funding formula that omits 15 current budget line items, including an earmark for school technology.

In the current public school budget, lawmakers set aside a $10.5 million line item for classroom technology.

Ryan Gravette, president of the IETA, said a stable, predictable source of technology funding is necessary to ensure districts have the infrastructure in place to implement different education initiatives. Whether it is providing reliable wireless internet to schools, implementing a more robust computer science curriculum, delivering modern assessment test online, supporting devices such as Chromebooks, iPads and laptops or fostering an educational environment rich in STEM courses, Gravette technology funding is the key.

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“You can see just from changes in cell phones over the past five years or computer technology over last five years that the pace of technology change means in five or six years, the equipment you purchased can no longer support some of the initiatives you want to do this year or next year,” Gravette said.

Will Goodman, an IETA board member and the director of operations and technology in Mountain Home, worries that schools won’t be able to keep pace with an evolving, 21st Century educational landscape if technology funding is omitted from the funding formula.

Will Goodman

If lawmakers don’t include technology funding in the formula, district leaders would use local control to apply the money they do receive in the areas most needed.

But Goodman worries that without a stable earmark, administrators may overlook technology needs. He also worries about what would happen to small districts that may not have their own I.T. department.

“It’s hidden behind the scenes, so it often gets overlooked in budgeting or funding,” Goodman said.

When lawmakers cut and froze budgets in response to the Great Recession, technology funding wound up on the chopping block.

“What happens when technology improvements aren’t made, is then you pay the price for it when you try to implement initiatives and the infrastructure isn’t able to support it,” Gravette said.

Although the first draft of a new school funding formula was unveiled Wednesday, the decision is not final. Consultants from Education Commission of the States encouraged committee members to “test drive” the formula over the next two weeks and reconvene Sept. 24 to consider any changes to the formula.

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