JFC continues voting on budget; next up is educational technology

The Joint Finance Committee (JFC) will be voting tomorrow (Tuesday, May 14) on a number of items in Governor Evers’ proposal related to educational technology and the TEACH program.  Among them are proposals that would:

1) Eliminate TEACH Educational Technology Training Grants.

2) Transfer $24 million in federal e-rate funding meant for schools and libraries to the state’s Broadband Expansion Grant Program.

3) Continue TEACH Infrastructure Grants until 2021 but reduce funding for thee grants from $7.5 million to $3 million per year.

These items are discussed in Legislative Fiscal Bureau Budget Paper #102

Note: The Wisconsin Educational Media & Technology Association (WEMTA) is asking legislators to support Alternatives B1, B4, D2 and E2 in Paper #102.

Background:

  • TEACH Educational Technology Training and Curriculum Grants currently provide $1.5 million annually in funding to help rural school districts provide training to teachers and librarians on the use of educational technology. During 2018, 201 rural school districts received funding from this grant program, enabling hundreds of Wisconsin teachers to receive educational technology training to help them choose and integrate quality online resources and tools into the classroom. The proposed budget would eliminate funding for these grants despite their high utilization.
  • Federal e-rate funds are intended to support telecommunications services for schools and libraries. The Governor’s proposed budget would transfer $24 million of those funds to the state’s Broadband Expansion Grant program. It is unclear how school s and libraries would benefit from this transfer as schools and libraries are not currently expressly listed as eligible applicants for the Broadband Expansion grants and state statute requires political subdivisions to partner with a telecommunications company or private organization in order to apply for these grants.
  • TEACH Infrastructure Grants are currently funded at a level of $7.5 million per year. These grants fund technology infrastructure improvements to boost rural school districts’ capacity to utilize technology for students. In 2017-18, approximately250 school districts received TEACH Infrastructure grants. The proposed budget would reduce this funding to $3 million per year.Between the elimination of the TEACH Training grants and the reduction in TEACH Infrastructure grants, overall funding for these two TEACH grants would be reduced from $9 million a year to just $3 million a year.

Note:  A vote has not yet been scheduled on a separate proposal that would eliminate the state Personal Electronic Computing Devices Grant program, effective July 1, 2020. 

Grants provided under this program reimburse schools and districts for the purchase of mobile devices (e.g.,  laptops, tablets, Chromebooks or mobile phones) for each high school freshman in the state as well as for curriculum, software, and professional development to support the use of those devices.  Grant funds can also be used to provide students with a mobile hotspot (unless a reimbursement has been received for the hotspot under a TEACH grant).  Under the governor’s proposed budget, this grant program would continue for one more year, but would be discontinued after the 2019-20 school year.