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N.Y. Schools Will Receive $87 Million for Tech. Upgrades From Settlement

By guest blogger Mike Bock

The New York State Education Department will devote $87 million from the settlement of a legal dispute with Microsoft to technology upgrades across the state, the agency announced this week. The money will used as part of the New York Technology Voucher Program, which is available for K-12 schools serving low-income families. More than 1,800 schools will qualify, including 1,000 in New York City.

According to the state education department website, vouchers will be offered to schools in part to "improve their readiness for computer-based testing" and support a "technology-rich learning environment," both of which are necessary for the implementation of the Common Core State Standards. In order to qualify for the technology vouchers, schools must have at least 50 percent of their student population enrolled in free or reduced-price lunch programs as of 2012. Eligible schools must also complete a "tech readiness" assessment tool, which is available online.

Funding for the voucher program, also referred to as the Cy Pres Fund, comes from the state's settlement of a $225 million anti-trust lawsuit filed against Microsoft by the state of New York in 2005. The state says that $87 million in vouchers will go to schools in the form of "general purpose" vouchers, which can buy hardware and infrastructure upgrades, or vouchers for specific types of educational software. State officials noted that schools must be ready to implement online testing for the common core by 2014-2015.

"Far too often, students in low-income school districts miss out on the use of the latest technology in the classroom," State Education Commissioner John King said in a statement. "These funds will help level the playing field for thousands of students."

However, some educators have concerns about applying for the funds. Newsday reports:

John R. Williams, the Amityville (School District) superintendent, noted that all five schools in his district appeared on the eligibility list. He added, however, that his district would have to check further into state requirements for funding—particularly any aspects of the program that might mean extra costs for local taxpayers—before deciding whether to apply.

"I'm going to have to reserve judgment on this until we see all the relevant details," Williams said.

Several academic reports have raised concerns about access to technology and educators' training to use digital tools in disadvantaged schools. A 2010 report from the National Center for Educational Statistics argued that even though technology use among schools is pervasive across income levels, teachers in low-income schools often report feeling less confident using it and often lack the professional development and training necessary to to integrate it fully.

For more information on state and district efforts to meet the technological demands of the common core, check out the winter edition of Digital Directions.

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