New report raises questions about edtech funding in ESSA

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There are still many questions about how educational technology will be funded in compliance with the new Every Student Succeeds Act, according to a new report from the Technology for Education Consortium and SRI Education.

Perhaps chief among them is how to interpret conditional limits on using a key education technology grant.

The act, which was signed into law by President Obama last year to replace No Child Left Behind, is being phased in this school year and will become fully operational in the 2017-18 academic year.

The TEC report, called “ESSA EdTech Watch,” aims to clarify and provide detailed background about how edtech funding will be affected by the law, according to Hal Friedlander, co-founder and CEO of TEC and the former CIO for the New York City Department of Education.The report targets school district leaders and chief technology officers, who are eager to tap into the federal funds to improve education through digital tools and professional development for teachers.

Friedlander said that with SRI Education’s “perspective and analysis, our member districts will be better informed about funding opportunities in education technology.”

Stakeholders are looking closely at how the “15 percent rule” will be interpreted. The rule states that only 15 percent of federal funds can be spent on “purchasing devices, equipment, and software applications in order to address readiness shortfalls,” but “the exact interpretation of the cap has been debated by stakeholders,” according to the report.

Local education agencies, known as LEAs, are limited to spending no more than 15 percent on infrastructure and software, but critics say districts that are not addressing a “readiness shortfall” should not be subjected to the cap, and LEAs can spend up to 60 percent on whatever they want to prioritize.

“Without additional guidance from the U.S. Department of Education, LEAs may have flexibility to get around the 15 percent cap if a district determines that a technology purchase does not support ‘readiness shortfalls,'” according to the report.

The Department of Education’s Office of Educational Technology is slated to provide additional guidance to states in the coming months.

The primary source of edtech funding in ESSA is the Student Support and Academic Enrichment grant, which is supposed to allocate $1.65 billion for resources like counseling, drop-out prevention programs and technology. But that figure could be vastly lowered, according to the report.

Education and technology groups have been waiting for additional guidance, as far back as February, as Education Commissioner John King prepared to outline his vision of the law before Congress.

States and school districts have more flexibility to direct the federal funds into programs of their own choosing, thanks to the new law.

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