Clinton Eyes Education

The White House is preparing a new education technology initiative

P> When and if the smoke finally clears from the budget battle, President Bill Clinton is likely to focus on education technology as one of his major themes in the 1996 general election.

In the White House, education technology "is getting the highest priority now.... It is definitely being taken very seriously," said David Shaw, chairman of the education panel formed by the President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology.

But even if the initiative does materialize, infotech executives will need to determine how much impact it will have on the education technology market. The optimists see the initiative fueling an already promising market for educational technology -- interactive courseware, Internet links to all the schools, a multibillion dollar market for educational software.

But pessimists could point out that education technology might become prey to the same partisan politics that all but killed earlier Clinton efforts in the environment and health.

"You should expect something [to be announced] in the State of the Union Speech" by Clinton on Jan. 23, predicted Linda Roberts, technology advisor to Education Secretary Richard Riley.

Education technology combines three priorities of the Clinton administration -- education, technology and the future, said Jonathan Sallet, strategic planning chief for Commerce Secretary Ron Brown.

In addition, Clinton is looking for popular and innovative ideas to use in the 1996 presidential campaign, and he has been canvassing a variety of liberal and conservative thinkers, including Sen. Slade Gorton, a conservative from the state of Washington who has pushed hard to bar pornography on the Internet.

The initiative began to crystallize last fall. In October, Clinton -- with Riley, Vice President Al Gore and Commerce Secretary Ron Brown -- discussed the future of education technology with 10 senior industry officials, including Ted Turner, who founded the CNN news network, Ray Smith, chief of Bell Atlantic Corp. Philadelphia, and movie director George Lucas.

The outlines of the administration's emerging Education Technology Initiative were discussed by roughly 100 industry officials and education experts in a Washington meeting on Dec. 7 -- the day after the Clinton administration vetoed the Republican's seven-year balanced budget plan.

According to a White House statement, computers and learning devices should be available to kids nationwide by 2000, classrooms should be linked to each other and the outside world, education software should be part of the curriculum and teachers should be ready to use the technology.

If the administration does make a major issue of education technology, it will boost the education technology market, said industry executives.

"If it is a national priority, that's helpful," said Gary Loyd, head of McLean, Va.-based BDM Federal Inc.'s education technology unit. BDM already has won several education technology contracts from school systems, including a multiyear, $27.5 million contract to supply computers and software to the 28,000-student Dayton, Ohio, school system.

Also, the federal initiative seems likely to catalyze even greater investment by local government and industry, said Roberts.

Nearly $10 million in federal educational technology expenditures prompted others to invest an additional $50 million, Roberts estimated.

And some executives have already pledged a significant ante.

Edward McCracken, CEO of Silicon Graphics Inc., Mountain View, Calif., said industry would supply the needed software if the government helps link schools to the information superhighway.

He recently helped prepare a report that called for the nation to spend $11 billion by 2000 to give each of the nation's schools a 25-computer on-ramp to the emerging information superhighway.

The report, the "KickStart Initiative," was prepared by the U.S. Advisory Council on the National Information Infrastructure, which McCracken co-chaired.

By 2000, the proposed spending plan would need $5.5 billion -- significantly more than the $3.3 billion now spent on education technology.

Roughly 1.3 percent of the nation's $249 million K-12 education budget is now spent on education technology.

Already, major entertainment and publishing companies such as The Walt Disney Co., Burbank, Calif., and Viacom Inc., New York, have aligned themselves with education-software developers such as Softkey International Inc., Cambridge, Mass.; Broderbund Software Inc., Novato, Calif.; and Davidson & Associates Inc., Torrance, Calif., McCracken said.

"Once business sees the education establishment as a good market... companies will say 'What kind of deal can I offer you?'" said David Byer, a lobbyist for the Washington-based Software Publishers Association.

Byer helps run the National Coalition for Technology in Education and Training, which includes a variety of education groups and companies such as IBM Corp. and Microsoft Corp.

But industry and government executives cautioned that the White House can play only a limited role.

"They are looking for a way to do this without any money," beyond the roughly $1 billion per year that Washington is already spending on education technology, said Byer.

He points out that the federal government provides only 7.4 percent of the nation's K-12 education budget, which is largely controlled by local school boards.

So school boards must take the lead by setting aside money for education technology, and that puts them in the difficult position of choosing between information technology and teachers' salaries, building maintenance, schoolbook purchases, and sport programs.

Still, few politicians in either party can resist the topic.

Clinton called himself the education president -- even as Newt Gingrich proposed a program to give laptop computers to school children.

"You've got to get people excited and interested... [but] this is something the communities have to do for themselves," said Esther Dyson, president of Edventure Holdings Inc., New York. Dyson was one of 36 industry and education officials who helped write the KickStart report.

On Jan. 30, the industry and education officials who prepared the KickStart report will launch a nationwide effort to promote education technology, said Dyson.

In March, the president's panel is slated to release a report that will provide some proposals for government support to education technology.

For example, the government could help promote the technology by finding out what technology works best, said Shaw, president of D.E. Shaw & Co., a New York-based venture capital company.

Also, the administration is preparing a National Technology Plan, which includes sections on education and health technology. The completion of the education section has been delayed, partly because the administration wants to coordinate with it with the other sections of the National Technology Plan, said Roberts.

Because of Clinton's interest in education technology, senior administration officials, led by Laura Tyson, chairwoman of the National Economic Council, are trying to coordinate the White House effort.

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