Edtech advocates take to the Hill

In a full-day lobbying trip, educators and vendors call on lawmakers to save edtech funding from Bush's budget axe.
Written by ZDNET Editors, Contributor

Even as he called for the country to beef up math and science education, President Bush slashed education technology in his 2007 budget. Now as Congress take up the budget, edtech organizations spent March 9 on the Hill, trying to educate lawmakers about the importance of the funding, eSchool News reports.

Sposored by the Software & Information Industry Association and Texas Instruments, the day included an afternoon forum addressed by Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.) While encouraging the audience to tell their stories to lawmakers (which of course is why they were on the Hill in the first place), Ensign was noncommital about his interest in saving edtech programs like the Enhancing Education Through Technology (EETT) block grant program.

"Students in the U.S. are no longer keeping up with their peers," said Ensign. "We need to produce more home-grown talent." As chairman of the Senate Republican High Tech Task Force and a member of the Senate's influential Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, Ensign said the amount of support educational technology and other STEM-related programs receive on Capitol Hill hinges largely on advocates' ability to share their personal stories--and illustrate a need for ongoing federal support. "Seeing is believing," said Ensign.

One audience member asked why Congress would consider cutting money from programs such as EETT at a time when national initiatives introduced by President Bush and others aim to recruit students into technical careers that depend on technology. Not all lawmakers recognize that technology skills are a prerequisite for such careers, Ensign said.

Outside a small circle of lawmakers on the Hill who are committed to increasing awareness of STEM education, Ensign explained, "I don't think most people are aware of it." And that's precisely why educators must "find out what is working" and provide proof of that success, he said.

SIIA education policy director Mark Schneiderman explained, "Our goal really was to talk through with [lawmakers] the role that technology plays in helping schools meet these federal requirements," said Schneiderman. "Our schools and our students cannot be competitive without better leveraging technology in education." But lobbying on this item will take more than a one-day visit.

For educators and others who couldn't make the trip, but still hope to contribute, Schneiderman suggested that education advocates write letters to their federal and state representatives and work to foster an ongoing dialogue about the importance of school technology at the local level--perhaps even inviting politicians to their schools to see the technology at work firsthand.

"Getting the message out there is critical," said Schneiderman, adding, "It's incumbent upon people to share their stories."


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