An Insider’s Look at ARRA
For the past 10 years, Bernstein has been working with organizations like the Consortium for School Networking, the International Society for Technology and Education and SMART, on education, technology and telecommunications issues.
Through his Washington, D.C. lobbying and consulting firm, Bernstein Strategy Group, he has worked to ensure that there is federal leadership and financial support for the integration of classroom technology into U.S. schools.
And the topic thatâ€™s on everyoneâ€™s mind right now is the end of funding from American Recovery and Revitalization Act.
As of July 22, there are still $13.6 billion in ARRA money remaining to be spent, but ARRA funds must be allocated by September 30, 2011, and educators and government leaders are concerned about future investments in education.
EDCompass spoke with Bernstein to learn more about the impact that ARRA had on education, what makes a good investment and what the future holds for education technology funding.
EDCompass: In your opinion, what was the biggest benefit of ARRA for U.S. Schools?
Bernstein: Because of the way ARRA was configured, probably the best thing that it could do was get technology into classrooms. For instance, the state of Nevada developed a whole online educational technology training system, where it fully equipped classrooms with state-of-the-art technology and trained teachers through online modules how to use and integrate technology in their lessons. Even when ARRA runs out, those online training modules will continue to existand those classrooms will keep the technology.
Even before this administration began, I and others in the ed-tech community here in Washington were negotiating to make sure that every single Title 1 school had technology-rich classrooms. To do that would have required $10 billion. Ultimately, ARRA only provided a $650 million down payment. Still quite a lot of money, but not $10 billion. We believe that districts have used much of this money to place technology in classrooms, where it can be used for years, but clearly, it did not make every Title 1 classroom technology-rich. That job is still to be done.
EDCompass: Do you have any advice for schools or districts that still have ARRA funds to spend?
Bernstein: This is advice that Iâ€™ve consistently given: because these dollars are going to come to an end and there will be no more in the foreseeable future â€“ you canâ€™t hire people with them. I think what you need to do is be really smart in using these dollars to buy durable items that will have continuing impact after the ARRA dollars dry up. Technology devices are excellent uses of ARRA funds, particularly technology that lasts a long time like interactive whiteboards and computing devices.
Additionally, I have heard of districts out there that are looking into aggregating some of their content costs â€“ buying multi-year subscriptions to digital content. I think that also makes a lot of sense and is in keeping with ARRAâ€™s goals.
EDCompass: Does a school districtâ€™s choice of investment affect long-term economic goals?
Bernstein: I certainly believe if we invest in the right skills and the right tools, then we are going to be making sure that our kids are poised to move to higher education and on to the workforce.
If we simply focus on the basics â€“ which are important, no question â€“ we are only talking about getting people up to a certain level. But if we are spending money on things that are going to take kids further â€“ giving them access to technology tools and knowledge that help them improve academically and help them prepare for whatâ€™s going be expected of them when they leave schooling â€“ I think thatâ€™s the right thing. Ultimately, the more prepared kids that we have in this country, the better off we are going to be as a nation.
EDCompass: Once ARRA funds are allocated, what can schools and districts do to continue their investment in education technology?
Bernstein: One thing Iâ€™ve been telling people is that you need to look at other pockets of funds. The federal government has a number of different title programs that are focused on particular special populations. For instance, the Title I pot for disadvantaged students has an annual appropriation of between $14 and $15 billion, the special education pot receives somewhere around $11â€“12 billion and the afterschool pot usually receives $1 billion
Schools need to figure out how you can tap into those dollars. That means working with other federal title program administrators at the state and district levels to show them that technology can help them reach the special populations these programs are intended to serve. Additionally, there are a number of foundations that are providing funds to help equip schools and libraries with technology. Schools need to look at all options.
- ARRA-funded SMART products help teachers in a Texas district create dynamic lessons that reach all students
- Students with ranges of learning disabilities benefit from SMART products
- ARRA-funded SMART products support achievement for students in special education classrooms
- Using ARRA funds to create technology-enabled learning environments
- ARRA Funds Expire September 30. How Are You Spending Yours?