NASSP Supports Proposal to Increase Broadband Internet Access for Schools; Expresses Concern about Lack of Funding for Professional Development

NASSP is strongly supportive of the ConnectED initiative, which the Obama administration launched in June 2013 to increase broadband Internet access to schools across the country and improve digital learning opportunities for students.

At an event at Mooresville (NC) Middle School, President Obama called on the Federal Communications Commission to “modernize and leverage” the E-rate program to meet the administration’s new goal of connecting 99% of the nation’s students to the Internet through high-speed broadband and wireless over the next five years. The president also said that the US Department of Education would work with states and school districts to better use existing federal funds to “strategically invest in the kind of professional development to help teachers keep pace with changing technological and professional demands.”

“Broadband access affects students’ abilities to engage in technology-rich learning activities and acquire essential skills,” said NASSP Executive Director JoAnn Bartoletti. “The president’s ConnectEd initiative will help level the playing field so that all students have access to the same Internet speeds. This effort marks a step in the right direction, but we urge President Obama to also increase the annual funding cap for the E-rate program which is currently set at approximately $2.5 billion. E-rate funding would need to be doubled just to meet the current demand.”

At a Capitol Hill event sponsored by the National Coalition for Technology in Education and Training in July, NASSP member and principal of Pottsgrove High School in Pottstown, PA, Bill Ziegler, spoke about his school’s technology program and the support they had received from the E-rate program. But he spoke more hesitantly about the future, stating that it would be difficult to keep up with increased bandwidth demands due to online assessments and e-text books among others.

In response to the president’s ConnectEd announcement, the FCC approved a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) to review and possibly modify virtually every aspect of the E-rate program with 3 overarching goals:

  • Ensuring schools and libraries have affordable access to 21st century broadband that supports digital learning;
  • Maximizing the cost-effectiveness of the E-rate program; and
  • Streamlining the administration of the E-rate program.

The FCC is asking educators to submit comments on the NPRM by September 16, and NASSP will be filing comments on behalf of middle and high school principals in coordination with the Education and Library Networks Coalition. If you are familiar with the E-rate program and would like to share recommendations with NASSP staff, please contact Amanda Karhuse, NASSP Director of Government Relations, at karhusea@nassp.org.

While NASSP is pleased with the proposal to increase broadband Internet access through the E-rate program, we are concerned that the administration is proposing to repurpose Title II funds for additional training on integrating education technology in classrooms. Appropriated at just over $3 billion annually, Title II is the only federal program to support class-size reduction and teacher and principal professional development programs, and there’s already not enough money to go around.

NASSP feels that there needs to be dedicated funding for education technology, which is why we support the Transforming Education through Technology Act (H.R. 521) and the Enhancing Education Through Technology Act (S. 1087). The legislation would require school districts to carry out “digital age” professional development opportunities for all school staff. Specifically, school leaders would receive ongoing professional development to promote: 1) the use of educational technology to ensure a digital age learning environment; and 2) the use of data in order to increase student access to technology and engagement in learning. School districts could also use the funding to hire technology coaches to work directly with teachers on integrating technology into their instruction.

NASSP continues to urge Congress to approve these bills through reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, and we also call for restoration of a dedicated federal funding stream for education technology.

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