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Public school technology plan has $200M price tag

Published: Saturday, Aug. 1 2015 8:43 p.m. MDT

After two weeks of discussions, deliberations, presentations and speculation, the details of House Speaker Becky Lockhart's plan to modernize technology in schools – and its $200 million price tag – were made available Friday. (Scott G Winterton, Deseret News) After two weeks of discussions, deliberations, presentations and speculation, the details of House Speaker Becky Lockhart's plan to modernize technology in schools – and its $200 million price tag – were made available Friday. (Scott G Winterton, Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY — After two weeks of discussions, deliberations, presentations and speculation, the details of House Speaker Becky Lockhart's plan to modernize technology in schools – and its $200 million price tag – were made available Friday.

The Public Education Modernization Act, or HB131, calls for $50 million in one-time funding from the state's Education Fund and an additional $150 million in ongoing funding from the state's General Fund.

But Lockhart suggested Friday that those figures are placeholders and subject to change, including the stipulation that the technology upgrade be funded with General Fund dollars.

"We're still talking a lot about ideas," Lockhart said, noting it would make sense for at least some of the cash to come from the state's Education Fund.

HB131 is being sponsored by Rep. Francis Gibson, R-Mapleton, who has worked with Lockhart and other legislative leaders in drafting the bill. Both Gibson and Lockhart have stated that the end goal is a so-called "one-to-one device" ratio, where every public education student has access to learning technology.

But the transition would begin with an upgrade of the state's technology infrastructure, followed by the training of teachers and administrators to best implement learning devices in the classroom.

Lockhart said the Modernization Act was always intended to be a multiple-year effort and on Friday she said she now hopes her initiative can be implemented in no more than three years.

The speaker added that a full transition to one-to-one devices could be implemented in as quickly as 18-24 months "if we had the money and could do it all at once."

The announcement of Lockhart's plan was initially met with concerns over funding for schools, as initial estimates pegged the cost of full technology implementation at $300 million.

Gov. Gary Herbert's proposed budget called for a total of $261 million in new funding for both public education and higher education combined, including $64 million for the estimated 10,300 students that will enter the school system next year and $61.6 to increase per-pupil spending by 2.5 percent.

On Thursday, the Public Education Appropriations Committee prioritized funding for enrollment growth and a 2.5 percent increase in per-pupil spending, as well as $100 million in ongoing and one-time money for the Modernization Act. But at the time, lawmakers cautioned those priorities were still subject to updated revenue projections and further action by the Legislature.

State School Board Chairman David Crandall said educators had been working with lawmakers on a smaller-scaled device initiative that similarly would have focused on teacher training. He said he believed that those concepts had been incorporated into the Modernization Act and while it remains to be seen what effect HB131 has on other education priorities, the School Board was at least supportive of the concept of increasing the number of learning devices in schools.

"If you focus on the device, it’s not effective. That’s what we’ve found," Crandall said. "But focusing first on the professional development of the educators who are actually going to be using it, when they’ve done that, it’s been successful."

Crandall said when properly integrated into the classroom, technology and learning devices allow for a more effective delivery of instruction. He also said that using devices in a classroom setting teaches students to use technology productively as an informational tool and not simply a recreational diversion.

"That's why we supported it initially," Crandall said.

Under the terms of the bill, funding for classroom devices and infrastructure upgrades would be allocated on a grant basis through the Utah State Office of Education.

While the bill itself has not been available till Friday, lawmakers have received a number of presentations regarding the Modernization Act and several have expressed support.

Contributing: Lisa Riley Roche

Email: benwood@deseretnews.com Twitter: bjaminwood

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