Putting Education Reform To The Test

A Digital Divide Between State Board And Lawmakers’ Education Budget

Florida Department of Education

State Board of Education member Kathleen Shanahan.

A Florida Senate budget proposal includes money for teacher raises, but the State Board of Education is worried the spending plan does not set aside enough money to expand Internet access at state schools.

The Senate budget proposal unveiled Wednesday sets aside $76 million to expand Internet access at state schools.

The Florida Department of Education says 263 schools lack broadband access while 1,600 schools don’t have the high-speed wireless Internet needed for digital classrooms.

The agency asked for $390.1 million in its budget request to offer schools grants to upgrade their wireless Internet access. The agency requested another $51.7 million to obtain 304,000 computers, tablets or other devices needed for testing.

Board members are worried they haven’t adequately explained why the money is needed — and that they are running out of time as lawmakers begin debating the budget. Legislators are working on a spending plan for the last full budget year before new  education standards — known as Common Core State Standards — and accompanying test are scheduled to take effect in the fall of 2014.

Internet access will be important as Florida schools switch to Common Core and replace the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test with online exams. In addition, a state law requires Florida schools deliver half of their instruction digitally beginning in the fall of 2015.

“They’re not there at all,” board member Kathleen Shanahan said at Tuesday’s meeting. “We have our responsibilities to be ready for Common Core…we haven’t made our case.

“It’s all going to be on a technology platform and we should be leading the nation,” Shanahan said, “and we are not on this front.”

The proposed Senate budget, Shanahan said, would set aside $150,000 per school and $9 million for grants to upgrade high-speed Internet access.

Shanahan noted Gov. Rick Scott is pushing $2,500 across-the-board raises for teachers. She supports the idea, but Shanahan said the board can’t support raises if it means delaying preparations for the switch to new standards.

“We appear to be a paper tiger if we don’t take this seriously,” she said.


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