STATEMENT OF BENTON FOUNDATION CHAIRMAN ON PRESIDENT BUSH'S TECHNOLOGY PROGRAM BUDGET CUTS
by Charles BentonPresident Bush's proposed FY 2002 budget represents, in my view, a step backward in our efforts to provide digital opportunities for all Americans. His education proposal, "No Child Left Behind," called for the consolidation of existing educational technology programs into a state block grant. His FY 2002 U.S. Department of Education budget delivered on this promise with, not only a consolidation, but also a decrease in funding and a retreat from federal leadership. We see a similar pattern at the U.S. Department of Commerce.
Educational technology has the power to enhance teaching and learning and vastly improve the productivity of the education enterprise. In 2001, U.S. Department of Education funding for the eight ed-tech programs authorized under Title III of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act rose to an all-time high of $872 million. This was a 5,700 percent increase from the $23 million appropriated in 1993. President Bush has proposed a cut of $55 million for these programs, a 6 percent decrease. In our Information Society, this is the time for more educational technology funding and innovation, not less.
Moreover, it is questionable whether educators will be better off without the direct, categorical Title III edtech investments. Past experience with block grants and consolidation have shown:
- The focus of the specific programs block grants replaced get lost
- Funding is often reduced from previous levels
- Block grants significantly reduce program accountability
- The impact of federal funds is diffused
At the Department of Commerce, their Technology Opportunities Program (TOP) has helped bring the benefits of the national information infrastructure to all Americans. TOP funding has also been an important source of funding for testing innovative and practical applications of new telecommunications and information technologies that serve the public interest. President Bush has proposed slashing TOP's budget by 66 percent to $15.5 million, down from $45.4 million in FY 2001.
With the proposed consolidation and cuts in funding, further progress would be stunted as responsibility is simply passed to the states and non-governmental sector. From convening, to spurring innovation, to evaluating, strong federal leadership in this area is still critical. In view of what’s at stake, this is the time for greater federal leadership, not less.
This year the Benton Foundation celebrates its 20th Anniversary as a foundation dedicated to serving the public interest in telecommunications. Over the years, we have witnessed new technologies take hold and transform our world. My experience has been that the more the benefits of the Information Society are spread to all segments of society, the better off we are as a nation in advancing our economic, educational, and cultural interests.
This news release is copyright (c)Benton Foundation 2001. "Redistribution of this is encouraged if it includes this message." The Benton Foundation can be found at www.benton.org
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