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Chopra: Feds Refocusing Ed-Tech Support

U.S. Chief Technology Officer Aneesh Chopra Tuesday at the Consortium for School Networking's annual conference in New Orleans said President Obama's education technology vision is one where the federal government focuses on improving infrastructure, access, and research.

Chopra added that he understood angst expressed within the ed-tech community about the potential shifting of federal funding, including moving away from the Enhancing Education Through Technology, or EETT program.

But in a speech at the event's opening plenary session, he pointed to $10 million in mobile learning grants offered by the Federal Communications Commission as part of its E-rate program, the proposed $90-million ARPA-ED research and innovation program, and a proposed $100-million devoted to researching mobile devices in education as part of the Wireless Innovation and Infrastructure Initiative as signs of the administration's commitment to education technology. All those, he said, would help create conditions where businesses large and small would be encouraged to invest in technology projects for the public good.

"The challenge is how to engage an ecosystem that includes entrepreneurs as problem solvers," Chopra said in the speech, "so we don't have to solve them all on our own backs."

Later, with Chopra still in the audience, past chair of the CoSN Board of Directors Ed Zaiontz asked guests to sign a petition to encourage Congress to maintain funding to EETT, the federal government's only explicit education technology, and one the Obama administration has proposed consolidating. But Chopra said he hasn't felt any tension between education technology advocates and the White House.

"I understand in periods of transition, as we move to new models, there's a clear angst around how does one move to a new world while you're taking away the old," said Chopra, who added that, in less trying economic times, the administration might have tried to continue funding EETT while also launching new initiatives. "The difficulties of our budget environment are such that we're making changes. We've made our decision in the administration, and we stand by those decisions. We look forward to moving forward working together."

As the only explicit federal ed-tech funding program, the EETT is currently funded at the $100-million yearly level, and it received $650 million in one-time stimulus funds two years ago. But other than that infusion, it has been progressively cut over the last decade, and was also slated for elimination by the Bush administration. Ensuring its survival has been a prescient topic among conference attendees this week.

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