Almost a year ago, the state Legislature appropriated $15 million to establish the Educational Technology Initiative, a four-year effort to upgrade computer training in the state's public school system. On Saturday, the grades were passed out on the initiative's first year.
Arianne Baadsgaard, a fourth-grade student from the Nebo School District, spoke for students statewide in a letter to legislators that was shared with those attending the Utah School Board Association's annual convention Saturday."I'm glad you sent us the money for the computers. I enjoy them. They help me in my school work. I am better in math now. I am learning to type. I am glad you sent them. My favorite time in school is computer time. We are lucky to have them."
The letter was one of several written by students and read to the association by Curtis Fawson, project director for the initiative. Fawson spoke of technology as a tool to extract the greatest value from the education dollar.
"We can't do much to reduce class size in Utah without spending a lot of money. But we can do a lot with technology to increase learning and individualized instruction," Fawson said.
In characterizing the first year of the project, Fawson said the important word in the title is "initiative" and likened the progress to the word's definition. The state had "taken the first step," being the first state to attempt this type of program, and individual school districts "originated new ideas and methods" in implementing plans for use of the funds. The initiative has the potential to develop in students "the ability to think or act without being urged."
The funds supplied by the Legislature were contingent on matching funds to come from school districts at a ratio of one district dollar to each state dollar. Fawson said the districts' response to the initiative is shown in their matching dollars.
"The districts think enough of the initiative that they have come up with funds above the one-to-three match," he said. In some cases the funds have been matched almost dollar for dollar.
During the Saturday meeting, educators from several districts shared features of their technology plans. All plans mentioned efforts to accomplish the Legislature's goals to "promote student performance in the basic curriculum areas of reading and math."
The Jordan School District's plan expects the use of technology to increase reading and math scores by 15 percent in targeted populations. While the program was implemented to run with a constant level of funding of $15 million per year for four years, the governor's proposed budget has trimmed the amount to $10 million for its second year.
The steering committee appointed to distribute the funds had given only half of the first $15 million to school districts by the end of 1990. But Fawson said the reason was the late start; no school district plans were reviewed before August. He hopes the Legislature can be convinced to continue the $15 million funding level through the life of the initiative.
So students throughout the state are writing to the Legislature to encourage continued funding. "When we grow up we might get a job with computers," writes another fourth-grade student, "but if we don't get the computers we won't be able to get a job with computers."