Senate Authorizes Creation of 1,000 CTCs
Last week the Senate took action to create 1,000 community technology centers (CTCs) to be funded through the Department of Education.
On May 9 the Senate approved, by a vote of 50-49, an amendment by Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) to the Elementary and Secondary Education bill. The bill authorizes $100 million to go towards creating and expanding 1,000 CTCs. The education bill is expected to pass the Senate. and will await House action before a conference occurs.
The CTC program is a grants program in its third year, operated by the Education Department. Although Congress and President Clinton supported the program, this is the first time it may be specifically authorized. President Bush had proposed in his budget that the CTC program be shifted to HUD, possibly with programmatic changes. The President proposal also funded CTCs at $80 million-- much less than the $100 million proposed by President Clinton, and the amount authorized under the Mikulski amendment.
Mikulski sits on the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, but also serves as the ranking member on the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Veterans Administration, Housing and Urban Development and Independent Agencies (VA-HUD), and is widely recognized as a leading voice in the Senate on digital divide issues. The amendment's approval is significant as an indication that Mikulski will push to keep the existing federal CTC program under the auspices of the Education Department, instead of HUD, as proposed by Bush.
The companion House education bill, H.R. 1 passed through the House Education and the Workforce Committee on the same day. The bill does not authorize continuation of the CTC program at the Education Department. It does, however, give local school districts the ability to transfer up to 50% of the federal monies they receive to a range of programs under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, without requiring permission of the states or the Education Department.
Thus, federal funds originally targeted for class size reduction or teacher salaries could conceivably be transferred for classroom technology or community-based distance learning on an annual, non- permanent basis. While purporting to offer local education efforts more flexibility to target funds for specific needs without layers of bureaucratic obstacles, it potentially binds disparate technology and non-technology education priorities together, to be addressed at the expense of one another, without guaranteed consistency from school year to school year.
Even if the Mikulski amendment remains in the final education bill sent to the President, it does not insure that $100 million will be spent on CTCs. CTCs were appropriated $65 million for FY 2001. Although the bill authorizes $100 million in FY 2002, congressional action is needed each year to appropriate that amount. The budget resolution that just passed Congress provides for only a 4% spending increase on all discretionary programs without adjusting for inflation. There will be intense competition over limited funds since certain areas of the budget, such as defense spending, are likely to get significant increases.