Computer savvy

August 12, 2007

After being shut out for five years because of compliance issues, Baltimore has once again been awarded money under a federal school technology program. That news is not only good but timely, as Congress recently passed legislation to help keep America competitive in science, math and technology. With so much of the nation's and the state's current and future employment tied to technology, Baltimore students cannot afford to be left behind.

The Federal Communications Commission has authority for a program known as E-rate, which uses fees on consumers' phone bills to provide discounted Internet access and telecommunications equipment to school districts in rural and high-poverty areas.

As allegations of fraud and waste put the program under more intense scrutiny across the country, an audit in Baltimore found a number of problems, including insufficient documentation to justify the discount received by the school system, lack of evidence that equipment had been installed and was working properly, and failure to make effective use of equipment and services provided by the program.

As a result, funds have been withheld from Baltimore since the 2002-2003 school year. But an announcement last week puts city schools back in the mix. A concerted clean-up effort by city school officials to comply with program regulations led to an award of $7.7 million to the school system for the coming academic year.

The new award comes just as Congress has passed bills designed to strengthen math and science education, as well as scientific research. The legislation aims to direct more than $30 billion from 2008 to 2010 to a range of federal science, technology, engineering and math programs. Such programs require greater familiarity and facility with computers and telecommunications, which are at the heart of what E-rate can provide.

Baltimore schools now have a renewed lease on a program that can help students take advantage of new and expanding educational and career opportunities.

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