Research on the latest initiatives coming out of the governors' offices shows spending on education technology will increase dramatically over the next several years. Almost a third of the governors put increasing access to technology in grades kindergarten through 12 as one of their highest priorities in the upcoming year. Add to this the need to modernize and build new schools to accommodate the largest number of school-age children since the baby boom, and you have the makings of a once-in-a-generation market opportunity. With this type of commitment, it is no surprise the IT education market annually exceeds $15 billion.
Education and technology are clearly a powerful combination, especially in an election year. But as many vendors know, critical needs for technology in state and local government often go unmet without funding. By putting money behind their education priorities, however, the governors are making a tremendous difference.
Many public officials at all levels of government are recognizing the wisdom of Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge's statement: "If technology is the heart of the new economy, education is its lifeblood."
Pennsylvania has established a Link-to-Learn program that provides schools, libraries and communities with funds needed to gain access to technology. Over a three-year period, the state is investing $132 million to help schools purchase computers, train teachers on using technology and develop a collection of community-based networks called the Pennsylvania Education Network. Projects include building high-speed video, data and voice networks for rural counties throughout the state.
In addition to state funding, education buyers have access to funds from the federal government. The Department of Education has made over $75 million available to schools and libraries for education technology since 1995. This funding is targeted at schools in disadvantaged areas to provide them with resources to equip their classrooms with instructional technology.
Newly available funding from the Federal Communications Commission, under the auspices of the Schools and Libraries Corp., promises to accelerate the movement to 21st century technology in the schools. The so-called E-Rate funding was established by the Telecommunications Act of 1996 to ensure that schools and libraries have affordable access to modern telecommunications and information services.
The significant investments being made today in education technology infrastructure will keep many buyers and sellers busy for some time to come. What is becoming increasingly apparent to those who are active in the market is that this is just the beginning. Once the infrastructure is in place, the education community will need applications, technical support, management support and solutions. What is currently an unprecedented IT investment is only the tip of the iceberg.
Thomas R. Davies is vice president of Federal Sources State and Local Government Consulting practice in McLean, Va. David DeBrandt provided research support.